The Ever-Growing Pool of Democratic Presidential Candidates and the Possibility for Republican Challengers

By Aanika Patel, Class of 2020

There are currently 23 Democratic candidates running for their name on the ticket against President Donald Trump in Fall 2020. This number may no longer be accurate by the time this article prints at the rate new candidates are jumping in the pool. With the Iowa caucuses still eight months away this list will likely grow as more political hopefuls and business leaders join the list. Analysts including Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight predict this could be the largest primary pool in history.

The largest pools for the Democratic Party occurred in 1972 and 1976, producing 15 and 16 candidates respectively. These years did not yield a candidate that ended up winning the presidency. There have been a total of 10 presidential cycles where the total number of primary candidates between each party have reached double digits but only two have led to a sitting president.

As history has shown, this could be problematic for the Democratic Party. With a pool this large, it is unlikely, as has been in the past, for a single candidate to receive the majority of the popular vote in the primaries. This would lead to a contested convention and a messy timeline for resolution, leaving the Republicans more time to highlight and campaign for Trump.

The pool of Democratic hopefuls continues to grow well before caucuses in early 2020

The pool of Democratic hopefuls continues to grow well before caucuses in early 2020

Should Democrats be worried about the growing pool? Are they trading off having a variety of choices with making the strongest choice for the party?

The current pool has a larger than normal proportion of well-known names such as Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders and fewer of the candidates that have low name recognition such as MA representative Seth Moulton. While some of the less known names may rise to the top during the campaign season, many will likely fall out of the race early. With so many potential candidates, like votes, fundraising dollars will also be more spread out. Democratic presidential hopefuls will have to be even more strategic with how they allocate their fundraising and build their campaign staff in order to compete.

With Iowa caucuses looming as the primary that gives the decisive first push out the door for the candidates who don’t perform well, some campaigns are likely to overspend and overallocated resources in that region. Even if they end up performing well, the next few caucuses will likely be shaky and boot them from the race regardless.

This is why in this primary, more than ever, name recognition and thus fundraising will be king. Outspending and pacing the spend in such a crowded field will be more significant than in primaries for the 2008 election where Obama who was a relative unknown was able to break through the field. Trump will also likely elevate those candidates with the higher name recognition as he calls them in out in campaign ads or tweets.

Democratic voters and candidates will need to be more decisive and earlier than they normally would in order to give their party the best chance at a fight for the presidency. As the pool grows and more high recognition names with large war chests and individual wealth join the ranks, the party will be best served to adjust timelines and ensure they reach a mandate as soon as possible.

The Republican pool seems quiet for now. Republicans, even those who have been vocalized opposition to Trump, don’t appear to be willing to take him on in a primary race next summer. Former MA governor and federal prosecutor, Bill Weld, has explored the primary challenge and has some experience running for the presidency as a member of the Libertarian Party ticket in 2016. It is unlikely he will gain enough traction to make a viable bid for the presidency and has yet to officially announce his candidacy. Other potential challengers include MD Governor Larry Hogan and former OH Governor John Kasich who ran for the Republican nomination in 2016.

While these potential options are not likely to beat Trump in the primary, the primary race itself is likely to weaken Trump’s chances in the general election. The challenge in the primary, if viable, will highlight divisions within the party that are likely to bleed into the general election and cause even more uncertainty amongst key demographics including moderates and undecided voters.

Much like the Democrats, the Republican Party needs to be decisive in its decision to throw their full support behind Trump or begin supporting a candidate that has a fighting chance of decisively beating Trump in a way that unites the party. At this time, it appears that candidate does not exist and Republicans are best served by rallying behind Trump rather than focusing on the fractures in the party, especially after losing the House in 2018 , that are entertaining other candidates.

The 2020 General Election will be held on November 3, 2020.