(Reuters) – The historically large field of Democratic presidential candidates vying to take on Republican President Donald Trump in next November’s U.S. election was reduced by one on Wednesday when Wayne Messam dropped out of the race.
FILE PHOTO: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Kamala Harris pose before the start of at the 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Houston, Texas, U.S. September 12, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
Messam, 45, the mayor of Miramar, Florida, announced via Twitter that he was suspending his campaign. His withdrawal brings the number of Democrats still in the race to 17, with former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg also considering a White House bid as a Democrat.
TOP DEMOCRATIC CONTENDERS
There are four candidates who have separated themselves thus far from the rest of the field among Democratic voters.
Biden, the early Democratic front-runner in opinion polls, waited until April to enter the race, launching his bid with a direct swipe at Trump. Biden, 77, served eight years as President Barack Obama’s vice president and 36 years in the U.S. Senate. He stands at the center of the Democratic debate over whether the party’s standard-bearer should be a veteran politician or a newcomer, and whether a liberal or a moderate has a better chance of defeating Trump. Biden, who frequently notes his ‘Middle-Class Joe’ nickname, touts his working-class roots and ability to work in a bipartisan fashion. Some fellow Democrats have criticized him for his role in passing tough-on-crime legislation in the 1990s.
The 70-year-old U.S. senator from Massachusetts is a leader of the party’s liberals and a fierce critic of Wall Street. She was instrumental in creating the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after the 2008 financial crisis. Her campaign has surged in recent months, equaling Biden in some polls. She has focused her presidential campaign on a populist anti-corruption message, promising to fight what she calls a rigged system that favors the wealthy. She has released an array of policy proposals on everything from breaking up big tech companies to implementing a wealth tax on the richest Americans. Warren has sworn off political fundraising events to back her campaign.
The U.S. senator from Vermont lost the Democratic nomination in 2016 to Hillary Clinton but is trying again. For the 2020 race, Sanders, 78, is fighting to stand out in a field of progressives running on issues he brought into the Democratic Party mainstream four years ago. Sanders suffered a heart attack while campaigning in Nevada in October, but there has been little impact so far on his support. His proposals include free tuition at public colleges, a $15-an-hour minimum wage and universal healthcare. He benefits from strong name recognition and an unmatched network of small-dollar donors.
The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, emerged from virtual anonymity to become one of the party’s brightest stars, building momentum with young voters. A Harvard University graduate and Rhodes scholar, he speaks seven languages conversationally and served in Afghanistan with the Navy Reserve. He touts himself as representing a new generation of leadership needed to combat Trump. Buttigieg would be the first openly gay presidential nominee of a major American political party. Recent polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, which hold the first nominating contests in February, put him ahead of the other leading candidates, even though his national standing is lower.
TRYING TO BREAK THROUGH
The rest of the Democratic field is a mix of seasoned politicians, wealthy business people and others still looking to break into or regain their toehold in the top tier of contenders.
The first-term U.S. senator from California would make history as the first black woman to gain the nomination. Harris, 55, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, announced her candidacy on the holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. She supports a middle-class tax credit, the Green New Deal and marijuana legalization. Her track record as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general has drawn scrutiny in a Democratic Party that has grown more liberal in recent years on criminal justice issues. She saw a significant bounce in the polls after a high-profile clash with Biden over racial issues during the first Democratic debate in June but has since seen her numbers drop back down.
The New York entrepreneur and former tech executive is focusing his campaign on an ambitious universal income plan. Yang, 44, wants to guarantee all Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 a $1,000 check every month. The son of immigrants from Taiwan, Yang supports the Medicare for All proposal, which is based on the existing government-run Medicare program for Americans aged 65 and older, and has warned that automation is the biggest threat facing U.S. workers. His campaign has released more than 100 policy ideas, including eclectic proposals like creating an infrastructure force called the Legion of Builders and Destroyers.
The U.S. senator from Minnesota was the first moderate in the Democratic field vying to challenge Trump. Klobuchar, 59, gained national attention when she sparred with Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court nomination hearings last year. On the campaign trail, the former prosecutor and corporate attorney has said she would improve on the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, by adding a public option, and is taking a tough stance against rising prescription drug prices.
Booker, 50, a U.S. senator from New Jersey and former Newark mayor, gained national prominence in the fight over Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. Booker, who is black, has made race relations and racial disparities in the criminal justice system a focus of his campaign. He embraces progressive positions on healthcare coverage for every American, the Green New Deal and other key issues, and touts his style of positivity over attacks.
The Samoan-American congresswoman from Hawaii and Iraq war veteran is the first Hindu to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and has centered her campaign on her anti-war stance. Having previously worked for her father’s anti-gay advocacy group and drafting relevant legislation, she later apologized for her past views on same-sex marriage. Gabbard’s populist, anti-war approach has won her fans among the far left and the far right, and she recently engaged in a Twitter war with Hillary Clinton, whom she called the “personification of the rot” after Clinton suggested Gabbard was being groomed for a third-party run at the presidency. Gabbard, 38, slammed Trump for standing by Saudi Arabia after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Obama’s secretary of housing and urban development would be the first Hispanic to win a major U.S. party’s presidential nomination. Castro, 45, whose grandmother immigrated to Texas from Mexico, has used his family’s personal story to criticize Trump’s border policies. Castro advocates universal prekindergarten, supports Medicare for All and cites his experience to push for affordable housing. He announced his bid in his hometown of San Antonio, where he once served as mayor and as a city councilman. In the third Democratic debate in September, Castro drew jeers from the audience for an attack on Biden that was perceived as questioning the former vice president’s memory as a way to draw attention to his age.
A billionaire environmentalist and force in Democratic fundraising over the past decade, Steyer said in January he was focusing on his efforts to get Trump impeached and Democrats elected to Congress. Steyer, 62, reversed course in July, saying other Democrats had good ideas but “we won’t be able to get any of those done until we end the hostile corporate takeover of our democracy.”
The former U.S. representative from Maryland became the first Democrat to enter the 2020 race, declaring his candidacy in July 2017. Delaney, 56, says that if elected, he would focus on advancing only bipartisan bills during the first 100 days of his presidency. He is also pushing for a universal healthcare system, raising the federal minimum wage, and passing gun safety legislation. A former business executive, Delaney is self-funding much of his campaign.
Bennet, 54, a U.S. senator for Colorado, has based his political career on improving the American education system. He previously ran Denver’s public schools. Bennet is not well known nationally but has built a network of political operatives and donors helping elect other Democrats to the Senate. During the partial U.S. government shutdown in January, he garnered national attention criticizing Republicans for stopping the flow of emergency funds to Colorado.
Montana’s Democratic governor, 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. Bullock, 53, has made campaign finance reform a cornerstone of his agenda. He emphasizes his success in forging compromises with the Republican-led state legislature on bills to expand the Medicaid healthcare funding program for the poor, increase campaign finance disclosures, bolster pay equity for women, and protect public lands.
The 67-year-old best-selling author, motivational speaker and Texas native believes her spirituality-focused campaign can heal the United States. A 1992 interview on Oprah Winfrey’s show led Williamson to make a name for herself as a ‘spiritual guide’ for Hollywood and a self-help expert. She is calling for $100 billion in reparations for slavery to be paid over 10 years, gun control, education reform, and equal rights for lesbian and gay communities.
The retired three-star Navy admiral and former congressman from Pennsylvania jumped into the race in June. Sestak, 67, highlighted his 31-year military career and said he was running to restore U.S. global leadership on challenges like climate change and China’s growing influence. Sestak said he had delayed his entry in the race to be with his daughter as she successfully fought a recurrence of brain cancer.
Patrick is a late entry, launching his candidacy just days before early state filing deadlines. The 63-year-old African American and former Massachusetts governor said he was seeking to draw in Americans who felt left behind and to bridge a party he saw split between “nostalgia” or “big ideas” that left other voices out. The state’s first African American governor, Patrick was credited with implementing Massachusetts’ healthcare reform plan and tackling pension reform, transportation and the minimum wage. In 2014, Obama said Patrick would make “a great president or vice president,” although Patrick has said the former president was remaining neutral in the current race.
Former New York City Mayor and billionaire media mogul Michael Bloomberg, 77, has filed as a candidate in Alabama and Arkansas, but has not yet decided whether to run.
Trump is the clear favorite to win the Republican nomination, and there has been criticism among his opponents that party leadership has worked to make it impossible for a challenger. Still, the incumbent will face at least two rivals.
The 73-year-old real estate mogul shocked the political establishment in 2016 when he secured the Republican nomination and then won the White House. His raucous political rallies and prolific use of Twitter were credited with helping him secure victory. After running as an outsider, Trump is now focusing his message on the strong economy, while continuing the anti-immigration rhetoric that characterized his first campaign as he vies for re-election.
A former congressman, Walsh, 57, has become a vocal critic of Trump, who he argues is not a conservative and is unfit for public office. Walsh won a House seat from Illinois as a candidate of the Republican Party’s fiscally conservative Tea Party movement in 2010, but was defeated by Democrat Tammy Duckworth in his 2012 re-election bid. After leaving Congress, he became a Chicago-area radio talk-show host.
The 74-year-old former Massachusetts governor ran unsuccessfully for vice president in 2016 as a Libertarian. He has been a persistent critic of Trump, saying when he launched his 2020 campaign that “the American people are being ignored and our nation is suffering.”
Reporting by Ginger Gibson, Joseph Ax, Tim Reid, Sharon Bernstein, Amanda Becker and Susan Heavey, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien