Twelve Democratic presidential hopefuls take the stage at the October debate in Ohio [File: Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP]
Less than a year out from the 2020 US presidential election, the pool of Democratic candidates vying for their party’s nomination is among the largest and most diverse in United States history.
There are now only 16 candidates in the race, down from 27 earlier this year. The field is likely to continue to shrink as leading candidates continue to pull away in the polls and the race heats up.
So far, the Democrats have held four debates. The first two hosted 20 candidates over the course of two nights, but the third only saw 10 candidates take to the stage due to stricter Democratic National Committee guidelines. A record 12 took qualified for the October debate. But after a candidate dropped out and another failed to meet an even stricter threshold, the number was again reduced to 10 for the November event.
As the field narrows, here is a look at the current 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls:
Michael Bennet, 54
Michael Bennet has served as a US senator from Colorado since 2009. Bennet, a former head of the Denver school district, carved out a profile as a wonky, policy-oriented senator.
He gained internet fame this year for a harsh scolding of Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas over the government shutdown.
Bennet was close to launching a presidential campaign after that, but had to pause it when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
|In this file photo taken on April 10, 2019, US Senator Michael Bennet speaks during the North American Building Trades Unions Conference in Washington, DC [Zach Gibson/Getty Images/AFP]|
Bennet’s office said last month that the senator was treated successfully. That cleared the way for his May 2 campaign launch.
Bennet has so far only made the debate stage twice during the first and second debates. He failed to qualify for the September and October debates.
Joe Biden, 76
Joe Biden served as vice president under former President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017 after nearly four decades serving as a senator from Delaware.
Biden is the most experienced politician in the race and among the oldest at 76. This will be his third presidential run. His first White House bid in 1987 ended after a plagiarism scandal.
In a video announcement of his candidacy posted on Twitter on April 25, Biden focused on the 2017 deadly clash between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. Biden noted US President Donald Trump‘s comments that there were some “very fine people” on both sides of the violent encounter, which left one woman dead.
“We are in the battle for the soul of this nation,” Biden said. “If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation – who we are. And I cannot stand by and watch that happen.”
Last month, Biden struggled to respond to comments from Lucy Flores, a 2014 lieutenant governor nominee in Nevada, who said he made her uncomfortable by touching her shoulders and kissing the back of her head before a campaign event. Several other women have made similar claims.
In a video, Biden pledged to be “more mindful” of respecting “personal space”, but Flores told Fox News this week that the former senator’s jokes on the matter have been “so incredibly disrespectful”.
The incident is just a glimpse of the harsh vetting from both Democrats and Republicans expected for Biden, who has run for president twice before but never from such a strong political starting position.
|Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Biden Courage Awards last month in New York [Frank Franklin II/AP Photo]|
In recent months, he was repeatedly forced to explain his 1991 decision, as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman to allow Anita Hill to face questions about her allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas, then a nominee for the Supreme Court.
Biden has since apologised for his role in the hearing. But in the #MeToo era, it is another example of why critics believe he may struggle to catch on with the Democratic primary voters of 2020.
Biden has also become a prominent figure in the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry of Trump. That probe is centred on a July 25 phone call in which Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden and his businessman son, Hunter.
Democrats have accused Trump of pressuring Ukraine to find incriminating information on Biden after withholding nearly $400m in US security aid to Ukraine. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.
Biden has called for Trump’s impeachment.
As the frontrunner, Biden has made all four debate stages during this campaign season.
Cory Booker, 49
Cory Booker has served as a US senator from New Jersey – the first African American in the state’s history to hold the office since 2013. He was the mayor of Newark from 2006 to 2013.
His entry into the Democratic primary was steeped in history and symbolism, befitting his status as the second black candidate in an historically diverse field. Invoking the legacy of the national movements for civil rights and for women’s suffrage, the New Jersey senator during his candidacy announcement urged a return to a “common sense of purpose”.
|Cory Booker speaks to voters during a campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire [File: Steven Senne/AP Photo]|
Booker could face difficulty winning the hearts of the progressive Democratic base due to his past financial ties to banking and pharmaceutical interests. He said he would stop taking contributions from pharmaceutical companies in 2017.
He announced his presidential bid on February 1.
As for the debates, Booker has qualified for all four events so far.
Steven Bullock, 53
The Democratic governor of Montana, re-elected in 2016 in a conservative state that Trump carried by 20 percentage points, has touted his electability and ability to work across party lines.
|Montana Governor Steve Bullock talks to the media and students at Helena High School as he launches 2020 US presidential campaign in Helena, Montana [Jim Urquhart/Reuters]|
Bullock, 53, has made campaign finance reform a cornerstone of his agenda, and emphasises his success in forging compromises with the Republican-led state legislature on bills to expand Medicaid, increase campaign finance disclosures, bolster pay equity for women and protect public lands.
Bullock failed to make the debate stage in June, but did so in July. Due to the stricter guidelines for the events in September and October, he did not qualify.
Pete Buttigieg, 37
Pete Buttigieg has served as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, since 2012.
Before that, Buttigieg was a consultant for McKinsey and company.
He is the first openly gay Democratic candidate to run for president. He announced his presidential bid on January 23, 2019.
There are no policy positions on his website. He has virtually no paid presence in the states that matter most. And his campaign manager is a high-school friend with no experience in presidential politics.
Despite this, he has suddenly become one of the hottest names in the Democrats’ presidential primary season. On the campaign trail, he has frequently spoken about the struggle to legalise same-sex marriage.
|Pete Buttigieg speaks during the US Conference of Mayors winter meeting in Washington [File: Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo]|
“I’m not critical of his faith; I’m critical of bad policies. I don’t have a problem with religion. I’m religious, too. I have a problem with religion being used as a justification to harm people and especially in the LGBT community,” the Indiana Democrat said in an interview with NBC’s The Ellen DeGeneres Show this month.
Buttigieg’s moment may pass if he does not take swift action to build a national organisation capable of harnessing the energy, he will need to sustain his surge in the nine months or so before the first votes are cast.
Buttigieg has qualified for all four debates so far.
Julian Castro, 44
Julian Castro was elected mayor of San Antonio, Texas in 2009 and served until 2014.
He served as the 16th US secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under US President Barack Obama from 2014 until 2017.
Castro, the grandson of Mexican immigrants, was raised by a local Latina activist, and after a brief career in law, he was elected mayor of the nation’s seventh-largest city at the age of 34.
|Julian Castro listens as he is introduced at a gathering of Tri-City Young Democrats in Somersworth, New Hampshire, US, on January 15, 2019 [Brian Snyder/Reuters]|
It was not long after that election that Democrats nationally embraced him as a star in the making, particularly one from Texas, where a booming Hispanic population is rapidly changing the state’s demographics and improving the party’s fortunes.
He announced his presidential run on January 12, 2019.
Castro has made all four debates thus far.
John Delaney, 56
John Delaney served as a US congressman for Maryland’s sixth district from 2013 to 2019.
Delaney, a former banking entrepreneur, is known as politically moderate with a willingness to reach across the aisle.
He has supported a measure to raise money to build infrastructure by allowing US corporations to avoid taxes when they repatriate profits overseas if they buy bonds that would be used to build infrastructure.
|John Delaney stands in a food vendors building during a visit to the Iowa State Fair [File: Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo]|
He announced his presidential run in a Washington Post newspaper opinion piece published on July 28, 2017.
Delaney, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, was the first to announce he will seek his party’s nomination in 2020.
He said he was entering the presidential race early because he knows he will need time to build name recognition.
He failed to qualify for the first debate, but was able to do so for the second. He could not, however, meet the guidelines for the third and fourth events.
Tulsi Gabbard, 38
Tusi Gabbard has served as a US congresswoman from Hawaii’s second district since 2013.
Gabbard is the first Hindu member of Congress. At the age of 21, she became the youngest to be elected to a US state legislature serving on the Hawaii House of Representatives.
She was a fierce opponent of same-sex marriage when she served in the state legislature in her 20s. But she has since disavowed those views and professes her support for LGBT rights.
Critics have pounced on her efforts to block the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Hawaii and a meeting she held with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Earlier this year, she penned an opinion piece responding to media reports about her alleged ties to Hindu nationalists.
|Tulsi Gabbard delivers a nomination speech for Senator Bernie Sanders on the second day at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia [File: Mike Segar/Reuters]|
“While the headlines covering my announcement could have celebrated this landmark first, and maybe even informed Americans about the world’s third-largest religion, some have instead fomented suspicion, fear and religious bigotry about not only me but also my supporters,” she wrote.
Gabbard officially launched her presidential campaign on February 2, 2019.
Gabbard qualified for the first two debates, but failed to do so for the third. She did qualify, however, for the October event.
Kamala Harris, 54
Kamala Harris has served as a US senator from California since 2017.
Before joining the Senate, Harris was the attorney general of California. She has also served as San Francisco district attorney.
Her track record as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general has drawn scrutiny in a Democratic Party that has shifted in recent years on criminal justice issues.
|Senator Kamala Harris speaks to the media after announcing she will run for president of the United States [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]|
She supports a middle-class tax credit, Medicare for All healthcare funding reform, the Green New Deal and the legalisation of cannabis.
She launched her presidential run on January 21, 2019.
Harris has qualified for all four debates so far.
Amy Klobuchar, 58
Amy Klobuchar served as a US senator from Minnesota since 2007, becoming her state’s first elected female senator.
Before joining the Senate, she was the Hennepin County lawyer.
|Amy Klobuchar waits to speak at the Ankeny Area Democrats’ Winter Banquet on Thursday, February 21, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa [Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo]|
Klobuchar gained national attention in 2018 when she sparred with Brett Kavanaugh during Senate hearings for his Supreme Court nomination.
She announced her presidential run on February 10, 2019.
On the campaign trail, the former prosecutor and corporate lawyer supports an alternative to traditional Medicare healthcare funding and is taking a hard stance against rising prescription medicine prices.
She has qualified for all four debates so far.
Bernie Sanders, 77
Bernie Sanders served as a US representative for 16 years before being elected to the Senate in 2006 where he currently represents the state of Vermont.
A progressive and cofounder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, he is the longest-serving independent congressman in its history.
Sanders announced his presidential run on February 19, 2019. Sanders ran an unsuccessful bid for president in 2016 after losing to Hillary Clinton.
In the 2020 race, Sanders will have to fight to stand out in a packed field of progressives touting issues he brought into the Democratic Party mainstream four years ago.
|Bernie Sanders speaks as he holds one of his first campaign events in Chicago, Illinois, on March 3, 2019 [Joshua Lott/Reuters]|
His proposals include free tuition at public colleges, a $15 minimum hourly wage and universal healthcare.
He benefits from strong name recognition and a robust network of small-dollar donors, helping him to raise $5.9m during his first day in the contest.
Since then, he has qualified for all the debates held so far.
Joe Sestak, 67
Former US Representative Joe Sestak joined the race in June.
In announcing his candidacy, Sestak, 67, a retired three-star US Navy admiral, emphasised his 31-year military career, the need to restore US leadership in the world and tackle challenges from climate change and China‘s growing global influence.
“Our country desperately needs a president with a depth of global experience and an understanding of all the elements of our nation’s power, from our economy and our diplomacy to the power of our ideals and our military, including its limitations,” Sestak said in a video released on his campaign website.
Sestak represented a district in eastern Pennsylvania including the former industrial cities of Allentown and Bethlehem for two terms from 2007 to 2011.
He ran for the US Senate in 2010 and lost to Republican Pat Toomey in a year that saw Republicans take control of the House of Representatives. Sestak sought a rematch with Toomey in 2016 but lost in the Democratic primary.
Sestak has yet to qualify for a debate.
Tom Steyer, 62
Tom Steyer, a billionaire donor and liberal activist, announced on July 9 he was joining the Democratic presidential field after initially saying he would not run to focus his attention on impeaching Trump and getting fellow Democrats elected to Congress.
“There’s a breakdown in Washington DC, and I don’t mean just Donald Trump,” Steyer tweeted in a thread announcing his candidacy. “I’m talking about corporate money and our broken political system.”
The 62-year-old is one of the most visible and deep-pocketed liberals advocating for Trump’s impeachment. But he has previously said he has grown frustrated at the pace at which the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives is approaching Trump.
His announcement made no mention of impeachment issue, instead focusing on why he believes there is a need to reduce the influence of corporations in politics. He also said he plans to target climate change, which is the focus of the Steyer-backed advocacy group NextGen America.
Citing issues including climate change and the opioid crisis, Steyer said that in nearly every “major intractable problem, at the back of it, you see a big-money interest for whom stopping progress, stopping justice is really important to their bottom line.”
Steyer announced his presidential bid after the first presidential debate in June. He failed to make the debate stage in July and September. But he did qualify for the October event.
Elizabeth Warren, 69
Elizabeth Warren has served as a US senator from Massachusetts since 2013.
Warren, known as a progressive, taught law at several universities and was a Harvard professor.
Warren is a leader of the party’s liberals and a fierce Wall Street critic who was instrumental in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Earlier this year, she apologised to the Cherokee Nation for taking a DNA test to prove her claims to Native American ancestry, an assertion that has prompted Trump to mockingly refer to her as “Pocahontas“.
|Elizabeth Warren addresses the Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network during a post-midterm election at the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill [File: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP]|
She announced her presidential run on February 9, 2019. She has promised to fight what she calls a “rigged economic system” that favours the wealthy.
She recently unveiled a student loan forgiveness proposal that would cancel up to $50,000 of debt for millions of US citizens. She also supports free college tuition for students at two and four-year institutions.
Warren has qualified for all the debates so far.
Marianne Williamson, 66
Marianne Williamson is an author, entrepreneur and activist. Williamson is the founder of Project Angel Food, a volunteer food delivery programme serving homebound people with life-changing illnesses.
She is also a cofounder of the Peace Alliance, an education and advocacy organisation.
The Texas native believes her spirituality-focused campaign can heal the US.
|Marianne Williamson meets with childcare advocates at the Nevada State Legislature in Carson City, Nevada [Bob Strong/Reuters]|
A 1992 interview on Oprah Winfrey’s show propelled her to make a name for herself as a “spiritual guide” for Hollywood and a self-help expert.
She is calling for $100bn in reparations for slavery over 10 years, gun control, education reform and equal rights for lesbian and gay communities. In 2014, she made an unsuccessful bid for a House seat in California as an independent.
She announced her presidential run on January 29, 2019.
Williamson qualified for the first two debates, but failed to do so in September and October.
Andrew Yang, 44
Andrew Yang is the founder of Venture for America. In 2012, the Obama administration selected him as a Champion of Change.
In 2015, he was selected as Presidential Ambassador of Global Entrepreneurship.
He filed with the Federal Election Commission to run for president in 2020 on November 6, 2017.
The entrepreneur and former tech executive is focusing his campaign on an ambitious universal income plan.
|Andrew Yang arrives at a town hall meeting in Cleveland on Sunday, February 24, 2019 [Phil Long/AP Photo]|
Yang wants to guarantee all American citizens between the ages of 18 and 64 a $1,000 cheque every month.
The son of immigrants from Taiwan, Yang also is pushing for Medicare for All and proposing a new form of capitalism that is “human-centred”.
Yang has qualified for all the debates so far.
Who has dropped out?
So far 11 candidates have dropped out of the race, with more likely to end their campaigns as the top tier candidates continue to increase their lead.
Here’s a look at who has dropped out so far:
Bill de Blasio, 58
The New York City mayor emerged as a progressive standard-bearer in 2013, when he won the first of two four-year terms at the helm of the country’s biggest city on a platform of addressing income inequality. But he has struggled amid middling approval ratings and some political setbacks to build a national profile.
After making the first two 2020 Democratic debates, but failing to qualify for the September event, the New York City mayor dropped out of the race in mid-September.
“I feel like I’ve contributed all that I can to this primary election,” de Blasio told MSNBC when announcing he was withdrawing from the race. “It’s clearly not my time.”
Kirsten Gillibrand, 52
Kirsten Gillibrand has served as a US senator from New York since 2009.
After failing to qualify for the third Democratic presidential debate, Gillibrand, who campaigned on a platform centred on women’s rights, dropped out of the race.
In announcing her decision on August 28, Gillibrand told US media she had not decided which candidate to endorse.
“I think that women have a unique ability to bring people together and heal this country,” Gillibrand told the New York Times newspaper.
“I think a woman nominee would be inspiring and exciting,” she added.
Mike Gravel, 89
Mike Gravel, the 89-year-old former senator made a little-known run for the Democratic nomination in 2008, took another stab at it early in the Democratic race.
His goal was to make the debate stage, but when that didn’t happen, he officially ended his campaign in August, and endorsed Sanders.
John Hickenlooper, 67
John Hickenlooper served as the governor of Colorado from 2011 to 2019.
He announced he was ending his presidential bid on August 15 in a video posted on Twitter.
“While this campaign didn’t have the outcome we were hoping for, every moment has been worthwhile and I’m thankful to everyone who supported this campaign and our entire team,” Hickenlooper tweeted.
Later in August, Hickenlooper announced he would run in the US Senate race against Republican incumbent Cory Gardner in Colorado.
Jay Inslee, 68
Jay Inslee has served as the governor of the state of Washington since 2013.
On August 21, he announced he was dropping out of the race, saying “it has become clear that I’m not going to be carrying the ball. I am not going to be the president.”
Inslee made fighting climate change the central issue of his campaign. In announcing his withdrawal, Inslee said he hopes other 2020 candidates would use his detailed 10–year climate plan.
Wayne Messam, 44
Wayne Messam has served as mayor of Miramar, Florida, since 2015.
In mid-November, he tweeted that he was suspending his campaign.
Messam had failed to make a single debate stage during the campaign.
Seth Moulton, 40
Seth Moulton has served as the US representative for Massachusetts’s sixth congressional district since 2015.
On August 23, he announced he was dropping out of the 2020 race, telling US media if one of the more progressive candidates won the nomination it could make it harder for the Democrats to beat Trump.
“I think it’s evident that this is now a three-way race between Biden, Warren and Sanders, and really it’s a debate about how far left the party should go,” Moulton told the New York Times newspaper.
Richard Ojeda, 48
Richard Ojeda was the first official presidential contender to drop out of the race.
In January, the former West Virginia state senator announced he was suspending his campaign, acknowledging he “does not have the ability to compete”.
Beto O’Rourke, 46
Beto O’Rourke served Texas’s 16th congressional district in the House of Representatives from 2013 to 2019.
O’Rourke gained fame last year for his record fundraising and ability to draw crowds before of his unexpectedly narrow loss in the US Senate race against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.
On November 1, O’Rourke announced he was dropping out of the presidential race. The New York Times reported that his campaign was facing financial strain.
“My service to the country will not be as a candidate or a nominee,” O’Rourke said in an online post.
“Though it is difficult to accept, it is clear to me now that this campaign does not have the means to move forward successfully,” he wrote on Medium. “Acknowledging this now is in the best interests of those in the campaign; it is in the best interests of this party as we seek to unify around a nominee; and it is in the best interests of the country.”
Tim Ryan, 45
Tim Ryan has served as a US House representative from Ohio’s 13th district since 2003.
On October 24, he announced he is ending his bid for the nomination and would instead seek re-election in his House race.
Ryan’s campaign was marked by slow fundraising and low poll numbers.
He qualified for the first two debates, but failed to do so for the September and October events.
Eric Swalwell, 38
Eric Swalwell, an Iowa native, has served as a House representative from California’s 15th congressional district since 2013.