Who will run against Donald Trump in the November 2020 election?
Back in 2016, President Obama could not run for a third term (the Constitution was amended after FDR to limit presidents to two terms), and so there was a fierce battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders (and others) to see who would win the Democratic Nomination. Clinton won that battle, which meant she ran against Donald Trump, who won against a crowded field of 17 Republicans. And as you know, Trump won the 2016 election (we will explore the Electoral College in another blog post). Here’s a great 5-minute SNL skit that shows what it was like to watch election night in 2016.
A few months ago, there were more than a dozen people who wanted to run for President as a Democrat. How does the Democratic Party decide who its candidate will be?
On the debate stage in Ohio back in October, there were a record-setting 12 candidates on the stage at the same time. When the debates started in June 2019, there were actually 20 candidates split over two nights.
The image above is the search result I got for “12 Democrats on a stage” — as you can see, the field has been narrowed from 12 Democrats in October to the seven Democrats pictured in the middle image above.
The most recent debate (the eighth debate, if you’re keeping track of all of the Democratic debates) took place on Friday, Feb 7, from 8-10:30 p.m. in New Hampshire.
Why New Hampshire? (hey, that’s the title of this blog post!) Well, New Hampshire is set to hold the first-in-the nation primary election Tuesday night. I’m writing this blog post for students who are interested in following the process of choosing someone to run against President Trump, but who might not have been paying attention until now.
So who are the seven candidates left? (there are actually at least eight candidates, if you add Billionaire and former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg — we’ll get to him later).
Please take a moment to look up each of these seven people, listed in order by first name:
Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Tom Steyer.
No really — stop reading, open a Google Doc, and take some notes about each of those seven people, because one of them will likely run against Donald Trump on Tuesday, November 3, 2020.
How did we get from the initial field of more than 20 candidates to just these seven?
This is a Google Image Search for “Democratic Candidates” — there were a lot of them:
The way the Democratic Party runs the “debates” (and I’ll explain why that word is in quotes in a moment) is to set requirements that candidates have to meet in order to get on the stage. For instance, to qualify for the first debate, candidates needed at least 1% in three approved polls and at least 65,000 individual donors. The idea is to make the candidates show a broad base of support so some random person who wants to get on the debate stage can’t just do that.
The requirements for the most recent debate in New Hampshire were more than 5% in at least four polls and “225,000 unique donors, with at least 1,000 unique donors per state in at least 20 states and/or territories” (it’s a bit more complicated than what I just wrote — if you want the nitty-gritty details, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_Democratic_Party_presidential_debates#Qualification and scroll down to the eighth debate).
A criticism of the Democratic Party is that all of the remaining candidates are white, with the exception of Andrew Yang. Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker were in the race earlier, but both of them dropped out — click on their names to learn why each dropped out.
And now you can see one of the big problems — most Americans, in my humble opinion, are too busy to take the time to follow all of these candidates. I mean, did you really look up the seven candidates I mentioned earlier?
They are: Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Tom Steyer. Can you picture each of them? Where is Amy Klobuchar from? See? There’s a lot to keep track of. And most Americans are not dialed in to the process yet.
The reason I put “debates” in quotes five paragraphs ago is that a debate has two (or maybe three) people thoughtfully exploring each other’s ideas and discussing aspects of each others’ policies and political records. What we have seen lately are sound bites on a stage as people try to create “gotcha” moments. I was greatly disappointed by the Republican “debates” in 2016 that allowed Donald Trump to win the nomination. NPR had an analysis of How the Media Failed in Covering Donald Trump back in May of 2016, when it became clear he would win the Republican nomination. But I digress — let’s get back to 2020.
The Iowa Caucuses on Feb 3 were supposed to be the first place where Americans who are paying some attention to the candidates actually make choices about who to support — but as you likely heard last week (even if you were not really paying attention, you probably heard some thing about Iowa), there were problems tallying the votes in Iowa, and we’re still not entirely sure who “won”.
Because Iowa has such an involved process, only about 16% of Iowa voters participate, which has led to criticism of the process the Democrats use to choose their candidate. And because of the reporting mix-ups in 2020, it may be that Iowa will lose its status as first-in-the-nation for the 2024 campaign. That’s up to the Democratic party leadership.
To put this whole process in perspective (which is really the point of this post), each state has a certain number of delegates that it will send to the Democratic National Convention, which this year is being held in July in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. To win the Democratic nomination, a candidate needs 1,990 votes. Iowa has a population of just over 3,000,000 people (for comparison, NC has more than 10,000,000 people — we’ll get to state populations at the end of this post) and so Iowa has 41 delegates that it will send to Milwaukee.
The “winners” of Iowa (so far) are Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders. They each won about 26 percent of the vote, and they each get a few more than 10 delegates:
But 12 or even 13 delegates is not that big of a deal when your goal is 1,990 (“why 1,990,” you ask? Good question! That’s because there are 3,979 delegates total, and a majority is 1,990 — well, that’s not including something called super delegates — again, this process is quite complicated, so if you want more details, click the link).
This NPR page has a nice list of how many delegates each candidate has, as well as how many delegates there are per state. North Carolina has 110 and California has 415, which makes sense because NC’s population is about 10 million and CA’s population is about 40 million. Interestingly, the NPR site says a candidate needs 1,991 delegates to win, rather than 1,990.
So let’s get back to Iowa, which has a weird process (look up “Iowa Caucuses” if you want more details). The big story was that the Iowa Caucuses were held on Monday, Feb 3, and no official results were announced for a few days, so Iowa didn’t really do its job of narrowing the field and determining which candidates are in the lead. As a result, Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders, who ran neck-and-neck at the front of the pack, didn’t get as big of a boost as they had hoped.
Now the candidates are in New Hampshire (NH) — what’s at stake in NH? New Hampshire has just over 1.3 million people, so there are even fewer delegates at stake than Iowa’s 41 delegates — NH has 24 delegates. A candidate who wins NH might get as few as 9 or 10 delegates.
But because it’s early in the process, and candidates want to build momentum, nearly all of the candidates are flocking to New Hampshire to try to win. In the most recent polls, Sanders is leading with about 25%, but Buttigieg is right behind him with 20%+ in most polls. If Warren or Klobuchar or Biden do extremely well in New Hampshire, that will give a boost to their campaign as we move towards Super Tuesday.
What, you ask, is Super Tuesday? Well, this year, it’s March 3, and it’s a date when more than a dozen states (including NC) hold their primary elections. On Super Tuesday, more than 30% of the 3,979 Democratic delegates will be determined.
Here are a few paragraphs from a New York Times article:
March 3 — Super Tuesday — is the monster date on the primary calendar with 34% of pledged delegates at stake in 14 states, American Samoa and a group of expats called Democrats Abroad. Nearly half of Super Tuesday delegates come from south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Michael Bloomberg is skipping the February contests, spending big and jumping right to Super Tuesday’s delegate bonanza. Rudy Giuliani tried a similar tactic, with less money, in the 2008 Republican primary. He failed, as have others.
“After Super Tuesday, the only thing that matters is delegates,” said Josh Darr, a Louisiana State University political scientist.
Then the votes come in a big crunch. Voters award an additional 1,100 delegates on March 10 and March 17. By the end of St. Patrick’s Day, more than 61% of the delegates will have been won.
By that time, a clear front-runner will have probably emerged, and it will be difficult for anyone else to catch up.
And now, as promised, we can talk about Michael Bloomberg. He got into the race for the Democratic nomination late, and so he decided to skip Iowa (smart man) and New Hampshire, and he’s just focusing his efforts on the Super Tuesday states.
We’ll see what happens in New Hampshire — but the real action will begin as candidates gear up for Super Tuesday… and that means that if you live in one of the states that is holding a primary election on Tuesday, March 3, you will be bombarded with candidates and advertisements for the next three weeks. There are also contests in Nevada (Feb 22) and South Carolina (Feb 29), but the big prizes are the big states on Super Tuesday:
Here are the “Super Tuesday” states shown in blue:
The “40” in California and the “29” in Texas and the “10” in NC represent how many million people live in the three biggest states that are holding primaries on Super Tuesday.
Just for perspective, can you name the 10 U.S. states with the biggest populations? Try to name them, and then look up the answer to see how you do. (Hint: California and Texas are #1 and #2, and NC is #9).
So look up the leading candidates, and we’ll talk after the results are in from the New Hampshire Primary.