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It’s Time For A New 2020 Democratic Primary Draft!

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): Welcome, all! Guess what we’re doing today!?!?!?

julia_azari (Julia Azari, political science professor at Marquette University and FiveThirtyEight contributor): Being a political science buzzkill?

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): Talking about politics and getting in mild, petty arguments?

micah: Well, yes to all that.

But also …


natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): JJJYEEAAHAHAHAHAHHH! 2020 DRAFT!!!!!!!!!!!!

clare.malone: Was that a Ryan Lochte “jyeah”?

natesilver: That’s exactly what it was.

julia_azari: *visibly cringes*

micah: Here are the rules:

Six rounds. Snake draft. You’re trying to pick the winner of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. So you need to factor in who will actually run, the mood of the Democratic electorate (now and in the future) and the state of U.S. politics more generally.

The last time we did this was in September 2017; the goal, as always, is to sorta just check in on the state of the Democratic primary. We’ll redo this every several months so we can see who’s looking more/less likely to run, etc. — and so we can all look stupid eventually.

In terms of the pool of potential draftees, we can use this handy list from The Washington Post. (Of course, you can always go off-list too.)

OK, how are we picking the order?

natesilver: I’m picking names out of a hat.

micah: ah, ok


Copy editor Sara Ziegler is observing this process.

clare.malone: hahaha

julia_azari: Was Jimmy Carter not available to monitor this process?

sara.ziegler: The order is:

  1. Clare
  2. Nate
  3. Julia
  4. Micah

micah: #Rigged

sara.ziegler: This was a fair and transparent process.

clare.malone: I trust Sara. And I trust that the right person has come out on top.

micah: OK, with the No. 1 pick in the May 2018 FiveThirtyEight 2020 Democratic Primary Draft, Clare Malone selects …

clare.malone: BERNIE SANDERS!

natesilver: Bad pick.

micah: Very bad pick.

clare.malone: hahahaha

micah: lol

julia_azari: I don’t want to pile on but …

micah: Why Bernie, Clare?

clare.malone: Guys, don’t overthink this too much. Sanders has a political base that has a chance to grow as Democrats do soul-searching, based on what I’ve observed in the past couple of years. He’s got a political operation and he’s got the ego and will to want to run … and also, I think he’ll continue to make the same argument that he has over the past couple of years, that he’s the guy to take on President Trump.

julia_azari: I hate this pick but must admit those Trump-Sanders debates would be fun to live-blog.

natesilver: I’m actually semi-kidding since I wrote a year-ish ago that Bernie Sanders was the Democratic front-runner.

micah: The fact that he seems very likely to run is super valuable in itself, I guess.

clare.malone: And he’ll start running long before other people.

natesilver: But as our erstwhile colleague Harry Enten pointed out back then, Sanders’s polling actually isn’t great — he’s certainly not a Hillary Clinton-esque front-runner.

micah: But I guess my argument would be that the mantle of 2020 front-runner was basically his for the taking, and it doesn’t seem like he’s grabbed it. That says a lot to me.

He’s losing in early polls to Joe Biden.

natesilver: In a poll of New Hampshire, which should be Sanders’s base, he’s losing to Biden and Warren.

clare.malone: A Biden vs. Sanders head-to-head is definitely super interesting.

You guys choose!

I already know you think my choice is shit. ЁЯЩВ

micah: On the pro-Bernie side: The Democratic Party going left in 2020 does seem like a good bet.

natesilver: Yeah, but (i) the left could be pretty crowded, and (ii) I’m less convinced than I was a year ago that the left necessarily means Sanders. Democrats might want to turn the page from 2016.

micah: In terms of 2020, it does seem like Bernie didn’t have a good 2017.

clare.malone: Not visible enough in your book?

micah: Yeah, it just doesn’t seem like he’s locked down that left flank much.

clare.malone: It was a year dominated by the #MeToo and gun debates, and as a man and a gun rights person, Sanders was in an awkward place.

micah: Yeah, really good point.

julia_azari: (A man who wrote some weird op-eds back in the ’70s, right?)

clare.malone: But I continue to think that we are going to see a steadily shifting conversation as we get closer to 2020, which is why I don’t rule him out — he has organization and historic enthusiasm that I think can be called up again.

micah: OK, Nate, you’re up with the No. 2 pick.

clare.malone: Bad pick.

natesilver: I was kinda hoping for the No. 4/No. 5 picks for a change. In my view there’s a top tier, and you could pick that group of four or five people in pretty much any order.

micah: Bad pick.

natesilver: But anyway … I’ll go with Kamala Harris, senator from California.

micah: Good pick.

natesilver: Haha.

clare.malone: aka, who Micah wanted to pick.

natesilver: Lots of positives: I’m pretty sure #She’sRunning. She maybe straddles the line pretty well between the left and the establishment. California is a nice state to raise money from, and she’s a contrast to Trump, in many respects.

The downside is that she’s much less of a name brand than the others who are going to go in the top four or five. And as we saw in the 2016 GOP race, that can be a problem in a crowded field where other candidates command more attention.

i.e., she could be the Marco Rubio of 2020.

clare.malone: Wanna know where I think she’ll get pushback from the Democratic primary base?

julia_azari: The prosecutor background?

clare.malone: Yeah, and that’ll be the line of attack. I’m not sure it’ll stick, but, people will definitely try to … I dunno … paint her in a certain light as not actually a progressive, which seems to be a mandatory label these days for the Dems.

julia_azari: I think that’s right, dependent on how important questions about the criminal justice system are for national politics by the time 2019 and 2020 roll around. Which is an open question, though a definite possibility.

Those issues dragged down Clinton a bit.

micah: Is everyone sure she’s running?

clare.malone: mmm, decently sure?

julia_azari: I don’t consider that an important criterion at this time, which will soon become apparent.

micah: Wha!?!?!

You gotta run in order to win!

julia_azari: That’s true. Whether someone is running will be an important factor in a year.

natesilver: Also, a woman of color is I think under a lot of conflicting pressures to show her progressive bona fides while also mainstreaming herself.

clare.malone: Yes. And I think that given the treatment Clinton just got, Harris can expect some nasty attacks.

micah: Yeah, totally agree.

julia_azari: Yeah, I have thoughts on that.

clare.malone: Being a black woman candidate is really hard.

micah: OK, let’s keep going on that, but Julia, you have the No. 3 pick.

julia_azari: I’m going way off list … to someone who’s ostensibly not running, and I’ll explain why.

micah: Julia is about to make a Harry pick.

julia_azari: I’m letting my Wisconsin flag fly and suggesting Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

micah: ЁЯШС

julia_azari: Before the 2016 election broke the seal on having every politician in the country run for president for 3.5 years, it was plausible that someone you hadn’t thought of two years out might actually win the nomination.

And such a person has some advantages, like everyone hasn’t been fucking talking about them for years.

natesilver: Wow, that’s a Harry Enten pick if there ever was one

julia_azari: I’m so proud right now.

Shoutout to Harry.

Now hear me out.

clare.malone: No name recognition.

micah: lol

She’s not even listed on PredictIt.

And John Delaney is listed.

julia_azari: The lack of name recognition is an advantage right now. Baldwin came out strongly for Clinton in 2016 but is from a state that went to Sanders and that Trump won unexpectedly, if you’ve not heard about this.

clare.malone: Julia, you are getting hazed in the first degree and we are not sorry about it.

micah: haha

julia_azari: I’m not listening to you guys. I’ve been working on this all morning.

micah: Keep going, Julia.

Keep digging.

natesilver: If you wanted Baldwin, you could have traded down and gotten her! This is like the Giants and Saquon Barkley!

julia_azari: I don’t know what any of that (the Giants) means. I’m just thinking about my understanding of how the Democratic Party works.

I am not pretending to be sports fan here.

clare.malone: Thank God.

julia_azari: Baldwin was the first openly LGBT person to be elected to the Senate. She knows how to navigate that, and she speaks to an important and active group within the party and activists’ sense of justice on that issue. She’s progressive but actually versed on the issues important in the upper Midwest.

micah: OK, we gotta speed up a bit.

I have the No. 4 and No. 5 picks…

I’m going with:

No. 4: Kirsten Gillibrand

No. 5: Joe Biden

clare.malone: Safe bets, but good ones.

Nothing so courageous as a Bernie Sanders No. 1 pick, but, you know, some of us are made of tougher stuff.

micah: That gets me coverage on two big wings of the Democratic Party.

natesilver: No, it doesn’t.

clare.malone: You don’t get the Delaney wing.

natesilver: Or the the left wing.

micah: By the time we hit 2020, Gillibrand will be firmly in the left wing.

She’s liberal on the issues of the day.

julia_azari: Nah, no one that closely tied with Clinton will make that particular wing happy IMO.

natesilver: She does have the lowest Trump score of any senator.

But I don’t think voters think about things so literally.

As Julia said, she’ll be tied to Clinton, and Chuck Schumer.

clare.malone: Shameless plug for Gillibrand’s liberal rebranding.

micah: She’s a perfect anti-Trump, though.

julia_azari: Well, it depends on whether you think of this as a branding issue or a group issue.

micah: People, rebranding works.

See Donald Trump, Man Of The People.

julia_azari: Just ask New Coke.

natesilver: Having a presidential nominee from New York state would be a real change of pace, I agree Micah.

julia_azari: Yeah, we’ve got a lot of coastal nominees so far.

clare.malone: heh

micah: But she’s clearly positioning herself as the ultimate anti-Trump. There’s the Trump score, as you pointed out. Or, another way of looking at it, from Axios:

natesilver: It’s true that Gillibrand seems to be going out of her way to vote against Trump, which is a sign that #ShesRunning.

micah: Biden, by the way, is leading polls right now. That’s not everything, but it’s something.

natesilver: One could ask why Biden slipped to the No. 5 pick, given that he’s leading in polls and seems to be running.

clare.malone: He doesn’t feel quite right for this particular moment.

micah: I mean, he’s old. Also, he’s a bit pre-#MeToo?

clare.malone: Part of it also is his ties to the Obama administration.

julia_azari: Ask President Giuliani about early polls. (He was leading the 2006 polls for the 2008 Republican nomination.)

micah: Julia, why ask Giuliani when I can ask President Trump?

or Hillary Clinton! Or Mitt Romney!

clare.malone: If Biden’s appeal is to win back the Trump voter, I’m not sure how it will work in practice, given that Trump’s whole thing was capitalizing quite a bit on an anti-Obama wave. I just think he’s too easily tied to that, rendering some of his competitive “white working class” advantage moot because he’s been in D.C. too long.

micah: OK, Julia, you have the No. 6 pick.

julia_azari: Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

I’m continuing with my trolling but well-informed strategy of choosing people who are qualified and not currently part of the big debates and/or tied up in the never-ending 2016 relitigation.

natesilver: (Nate thinks: I’m gonna get a steal with the No. 7 pick.)

julia_azari: Y’all can haze me if you want. I tried to read up on snake drafts but my eyes glazed over.

clare.malone: BAIN


natesilver: As a recent Washington Post headline put it: “Deval Patrick: The Democrats could do worse

julia_azari: Yup, exactly.

clare.malone: BAIN


Guys, I dunno.

julia_azari: Serious question: Which is worse as far as a Democratic primary goes, Bain or being a prosecutor?

micah: BAIN.

natesilver: BAIN.

micah: Though Patrick isn’t really hiding his interest in running, which is a point in favor of the pick.

clare.malone: If 2016 were the electorate’s delayed reaction to the financial crisis and corporate America, then why would the Democrats choose a 2020 nominee directly involved with the rot?

micah: Nate, you have the No. 7 pick.

natesilver: With the No. 7 pick, I select the woman who went No. 1 last time: Elizabeth Warren.

clare.malone: Damn. Was gonna be my pick.

micah: Bad pick.

natesilver: I mean, come on. I’m not sure how she slipped to No. 7!

micah: Me neither … but, I kind of don’t think she’s running?

natesilver: It’s less clear she’s running than some of the other potential candidates.

clare.malone: She slipped because I drove the conversation and you all reacted against my Bernie Sanders pick!

Because you’re contrarians!

julia_azari: What could the Democrats have to fear about a female candidate who’s been in the political spotlight for years?

micah: I’d take Warren over Sanders.

natesilver: If Democrats want someone who has unquestionable left bona fides but who isn’t a rehash of a 2016 candidate, she’s at the top of the list.

And it’s pretty likely that a lot of the party will be in that mindset by 2020.

julia_azari: Warren would’ve been a good compromise candidate between Clinton and Sanders, but with any luck, there will be some other debate in 2020.

micah: Yeah, Julia is right, though, that Warren would run into a lot of the sexist shit that Clinton did.

Wait, Nate, don’t you think Warren and Clinton are pretty similar?

natesilver: Man, Micah, I feel like your sense of who the left thinks is actually left is pretty miscalibrated.

micah: Not actually similar, but similar in the superficial way that politics works.

natesilver: Warren is seen as pretty authentic, I think. She also comes across as nonpolitician-y, which can be both a disadvantage and an advantage.

micah: How many interviews/speeches have you seen Warren give, Nate?

She’s not “authentic” in the way that political pundits use that word. I’m not a fan of that kind of “analysis” or prism, but it’s a thing.

clare.malone: This is a great fight.

julia_azari: Warren seemed like a liberal alternative to Obama. The question is a lot more open in 2020. Being a liberal alternative to Trump is obviously easy, but who the Democratic reference point will be is harder to pin down. Clinton? Sanders? Gillibrand?

natesilver: Maybe she’s not great in interviews and speeches. But she has a good “brand” and is well-positioned given where Democrats’ heads are these days.

I also think that there’s little chance that both she and Sanders make it to the Iowa caucuses — if she runs, it’s because he didn’t, or because he lost the fight in the “invisible primary.”

micah: (I actually regret picking Biden over Warren.)

clare.malone: Yeah, I feel you on that.

micah: Clare, you have the No. 8 pick.

clare.malone: Ah, yes, now we’re scraping the bottom.

micah: OPRAH!

clare.malone: hahaha

So, I actually do find myself at a crossroads here!

I think we’ve scooped up most of the viable political people … should I pivot to the private citizens? The captains of industry?

Well … no.

I’m going to go ahead and pick Rep. Tim Ryan as a wild card.

The Democrat of Trump Country — home state congressman for me, and I think I’ve picked him before.

micah: #HarryPick

clare.malone: heh


micah: Clare, you also have the No. 9 pick.

julia_azari: #rustbelt

micah: #Ohio

natesilver: Clare always takes Tim Ryan.

clare.malone: OK, and I’m gonna continue to spice it up with No. 9 … pumpkin spice it up, that is: Starbucks CEO HOWARD SCHULTZ!

natesilver: Man, this whole draft is full of Harry picks. His spirit lives on.

micah: Clare has completely gone off the rails.

clare.malone: yeahhhhhh.

I feel ALIVE!

julia_azari: So Starbucks is OK?

I guess they are doing that racial-bias training … that was a winning PR move.

clare.malone: OK, he’s a businessman who’s liberal — that’s a decent pitch to stand against Trump in an outsider moment.

julia_azari: (note extreme sarcasm)

Only 2018 could bring us two rich white guys for an “outsider moment.”

natesilver: I’m not sure if Howard Schultz would be in my top 100. (Note to internet: Remember to quote this when he wins the Democratic nomination in 2020.)

clare.malone: I’m counting on that parenthetical coming true, Nate.

julia_azari: I screenshotted it.

micah: Nate, you’re up at No. 10.

natesilver: I’M TAKING OPRAH.

micah: Jesus.

clare.malone: Nate.

julia_azari: Nah, Oprah could probably beat Jesus. (sorry)

natesilver: She doesn’t seem likely to run, but if she did, she’d be extremely formidable.

clare.malone: Why on earth would Oprah run? I just don’t think she will.

natesilver: I think the candidates at this stage have maybe a 3 to 5 percent chance of winning, so I’m willing to gamble on her having a ~20 percent chance of running and a 1 in 3 chance of winning if she does run. That works out to like 7 percent.

micah: Julia, you have the No. 11 pick.

julia_azari: Jason Kander.

He’s on the fucking list.

natesilver: Oh wow.


micah: You are all terrible at this game.

clare.malone: My only comment here is that I am fascinated by Jason Kander.

micah: Kander couldn’t even get elected to Congress.

julia_azari: One of the actual lessons from 2016 is that the list of people with an acceptable resume to become president has … broadened.

natesilver: If you looked up “he’s running” in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of Jason Kander.

micah: That’s true.

People who are 100 percent running are worth something in these rounds.

julia_azari: You know who else hadn’t been elected to Congress? Donald Trump!

micah: He never ran though, Julia!

natesilver: Along with Delaney, Kander is actually a candidate for president right now in every practical respect.

julia_azari: He’s gotten some barbs in against Trump, he’d attract funders, blah blah something Midwest.

clare.malone: #Delaney2020

Let’s get this trending.

natesilver: Do I sense an O’Malley pick coming later?

clare.malone: oooh, no, The Macker.

micah: With the No. 12 pick, I select … Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar!

natesilver: Good pick.

julia_azari: She has the prosecutor problem too.

micah: Midwest bona fides.



julia_azari: I mean, there are people with baggage and then there are people who have no track records.

natesilver: I dunno, I think if you go by the heuristic of “parties nominate the biggest contrast to the previous president,” Klobuchar works pretty well. The Midwestern soft-spokenness is a nice contrast to Trump.

micah: From Time, here’s Klobuchar at the recent Women’s Convention in Detroit:

Klobuchar referenced the recent spate of harassment allegations, but used the issue to discuss class distinctions. “We make sure it isn’t just famous people who are heard,” she said. “We protect the shift worker at the factory, the teacher at the school, the nurse at the hospital, all women deserve to be safe wherever they work and wherever they are.”

That’s ^^^ good!

OK, now we’re in Round 4.

We’ll each give our picks and then discuss them as a group.

The order is Micah, Julia, Nate, Clare

No. 13: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.

julia_azari: No. 14: Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro. (I will not stop trolling because my theories are correct.)

natesilver: No. 15: New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

clare.malone: No. 16: Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

micah: I won that round.

clare.malone: Eh, I’m not sure. Landrieu is a better geographic pick.

natesilver: Micah, you didn’t win according to the Scottish teenagers at PredictIt — they say I won the round.

clare.malone: Weird field.

natesilver: Booker is pretty #He’sRunning and has a pretty typical profile for a Democratic nominee.

julia_azari: Wall Street.

micah: Bullock has a +23 net approval rating as a Democrat in Montana.

He’s pretty young-ish (he’d be 54 by Election Day in 2020).

clare.malone: Landrieu is a white male Democrat from the South who made a high-profile speech about race — I think those are some ingredients to get you some good grist with the Democratic primary electorate.

micah: Yeah, agree that Booker’s Wall Street connections are a problem.

natesilver: You picked Deval Patrick, though, Julia! I’m not sure that voters will see Wall Street as worse than Bain.

julia_azari: I would nominate Booker for “most likely to get chewed up by the progressive wing of the party.”

natesilver: Again, I’m not thrilled with Booker, but I think there’s a lot of value there if we’re talking about the 15th overall pick or whatever it was.

micah: Round 5!!! Order is Clare, Nate, Julia, me

clare.malone: omg we’re still going?

natesilver: Yes — Round 5!

clare.malone: Fine. Eric Holder.

natesilver: H I L L A R Y R O D H A M C L I N T O N!!!

clare.malone: lol

Nate’s just looking for attention.

micah: lol

natesilver: She wins at a contested convention.

julia_azari: That would literally be the end of the Democratic Party.

micah: Julia.

Please don’t steal my pick.

julia_azari: Who’s possibly left?

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.



clare.malone: No.

I thought you were gonna go with Mark Cuban.

natesilver: I like both the Hickenlooper and Obama picks, FWIW.

micah: Obama comes in to “save the republic.”

julia_azari: The Obama-era baggage of Biden with the interest in a political career of a nonpolitician.

clare.malone: Exactly.

That woman is not running.

micah: I don’t think she wants to run, but let’s say the 2020 Democratic primary is a shit show (likely) and she’s the “white knight.”

natesilver: We’re in the fifth round, though! I think y’all are playing it too safe.

micah: LAST ROUND!

Order is Micah, Julia, Nate, Clare.

I’m tempted to pick Al Franken.

natesilver: Then pick him.

micah: Instead I’ll go with … Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown!

julia_azari: Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

clare.malone: ooh

micah: ohhh

natesilver: Alabama Sen. Doug Jones.

micah: fuck

clare.malone: Mark Cuban.

micah: That’s the draft!

OK, here are the teams:

2020 Democratic primary draft, May 2018
Clare Nate Julia Micah
Round 1 Bernie Sanders Kamala Harris Tammy Baldwin Kirsten Gillibrand
Round 2 Tim Ryan Elizabeth Warren Deval Patrick Joe Biden
Round 3 Howard Schultz Oprah Winfrey Jason Kander Amy Klobuchar
Round 4 Mitch Landrieu Cory Booker Julian Castro Steve Bullock
Round 5 Eric Holder Hillary Clinton John Hickenlooper Michelle Obama
Round 6 Mark Cuban Doug Jones Sally Yates Sherrod Brown

micah: Who has the best team? (You can’t vote for your own.)

clare.malone: Wow, I really like the private citizens. I’m a real out-of-the-box thinker.

micah: My rankings:

  1. Micah
  2. Nate
  3. Julia
  4. Clare

julia_azari: Ha.

clare.malone: What happened to “you can’t vote for your own team”?

micah: Mine is just so clearly the best, Clare. I couldn’t help it.

OK, everyone can vote for their team.


  1. Nate
  2. Micah
  3. Clare
  4. Julia


  1. Clare
  2. Nate
  3. Micah
  4. Julia


  1. Julia
  2. Nate
  3. Clare
  4. Micah

Sorry, Micah, but the Michelle Obama pick just killed it for me.

Only one of these lists is clearly based on a group-oriented theory of the Democratic Party.

micah: OK, so removing self-votes it goes:

  1. Nate
  2. Micah
  3. Clare
  4. Julia

Wait, did I do that right?

natesilver: I’ve gotta say this is my favorite draft since my 2015 NL-only roto league.

micah: Anyway, let’s close with Julia’s argument for a group-oriented theory of the Democratic Party …

julia_azari: Lots of groups within the party coalition to think about: racial/ethnic minorities, urban vs. rural (dwindling numbers, but some in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Vermont), Democrats, women, LGBT Americans, progressives. Also political groupings like the seemingly sorta crystallized Sanders-Clinton camps. The right nominee will get at least some of these groups fired up to go to the polls and won’t be overtly offensive to any of them.

Which is why I think avoiding a candidate who comes too close to the 2016 rift is of central importance.

And that we should think about candidates in these terms, not in terms of starting with candidate qualities.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

Clare Malone is a former senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Julia Azari is an associate professor of political science at Marquette University. Her research interests include the American presidency, political parties and political rhetoric. She is the author of “Delivering the People’s Message: The Changing Politics of the Presidential Mandate.”

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.