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Our Third-ish 2020 Democratic Primary Draft Got Weird

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

sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): We’re back with our third snake draft of 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, god help us all. Previous drafts can be found here and here. And remember, we’re trying to pick who’d win the nomination, although our picks tend to get less selective and more inventive(?) as the rounds wear on.

The rules are as follows: Six rounds, so between the four of us, 24 potential 2020 Democratic nominees. Let’s determine the order. (And yes, we really do write our names on slips of paper and pick randomly!) We’re going to have Geoffrey Skelley, our new elections analyst, announce today’s order. Welcome, Geoff!!

geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, elections analyst): The office is currently doing the draw.

Clare has first pick.

Geoff is second.

Sarah is third.

Nate is fourth.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): OMG what bullshit.

clare.malone: heh heh

geoffrey.skelley: There are many witnesses.

sarahf: OK, Clare, you’re up first! Take it away.

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): Elizabeth Warren.

natesilver: Dammit.

geoffrey.skelley: Wow, that was my pick.

Stunning, I know.

clare.malone: My picks are gonna haunt your dreams, Nate.

sarahf: So she’s been popular in previous drafts, why is she your No. 1 now, Clare?

micah (Micah Cohen, managing editor): I’m really pissed I’m not participating in this draft.

clare.malone: Warren has captured the mood of the party for a long time as far as economic angst goes, she’s been a consistent and eager Trump antagonizer, and she’s gonna be raising mucho $$$$$$$$$$$

natesilver: She’s also seemed more candidate-y recently — like her weekend speech about Kavanaugh, which was nominally a speech for her Senate race, felt very much like something she could deliver in Iowa or New Hampshire.

clare.malone: Right, that speech is basically the reason we’re having this chat.

sarahf: For any readers that missed it, Warren said in a town hall this weekend in Holyoke, Massachusetts, that “after Nov. 6, I will take a hard look at running for president.” So yeah, definitely she seems like she’s considering running.

OK, Geoff, who’s your pick?

geoffrey.skelley: I’m going to go with Kamala Harris.

Tough call, was debating leading with a certain former vice president. But when I think about candidates who can put together winning coalitions, I think of candidates who could have a strong appeal to the Democratic Party’s African-American base.

sarahf: Betting markets seem to agree with you, Geoff.

geoffrey.skelley: Harris is also fresh and Democrats may be poised to go for a woman nominee again. Plus, Harris will have access to that California $$$$.

sarahf: And I’m going to continue the #2018yearofthewoman with my pick … Kirsten Gillibrand.

clare.malone: So, Sarah, a question for you on that one: Worried at all about the way that she has been screwed by some in the donor class?

sarahf: For sure. I also think her ties to the Clintons are problematic for a 2020 run.

But I think she has a lot of experience going for her. She’s been in the Senate since 2009 and was in the House before that. Plus, she has some bipartisan appeal as well. Part of what we saw in 2016 I think had to do with the fact that both Trump and Clinton were deeply unpopular, which means I don’t think Clinton’s loss necessarily means that a woman like Warren, Harris or Gillibrand can’t win.

geoffrey.skelley: Gillibrand is probably the leading NY candidate, which ain’t nothing in a Democratic field.

sarahf: Nate, you’re up.

clare.malone: Nate’s gonna go with noted populist Democrat Jamie Dimon, I can feel it.

natesilver: OK, we’re going snake so I get two picks, right?

geoffrey.skelley: Yeah.

sarahf: 🐍

natesilver: I’m going with (4) Joe Biden, (5) Bernie Sanders.


clare.malone: Bad pick.

natesilver: Which one?

clare.malone: Both.

All bad picks.

(For old times’ sake.)

natesilver: Joe Biden is LEADING in polls of Iowa.

And Bernie Sanders was the runner-up last time.

sarahf: I agree with Clare. How old is Biden?

clare.malone: I do actually think Biden’s a bad pick ultimately.

Biden is someone who’s going to probably look good to a general electorate, but I still wonder how his history with Anita Hill would play with a Democratic base in a primary.

geoffrey.skelley: I’m very down on Sanders — the moment’s passed, in my opinion. With someone like Warren running, I just don’t see it.

natesilver: Yeah, Warren running is a big negative for him. And his polls haven’t been great. It’s possible he benefited from being “not Hillary” in 2016, but now there are a lot of “not Hillaries.” But pretty good value at the No. 5 pick, IMO?

geoffrey.skelley: Yes.

clare.malone: He’s also someone who could be spun as too old, like Sarah said, or even not progressive enough for the moment. Again, this is for a Democratic primary.

natesilver: I just think … candidates’ fortunes will wax and wane, but Bernie is always going to have a built-in constituency.

geoffrey.skelley: No question that Sanders ran a good campaign — that “America” ad will live on forever.

geoffrey.skelley: Thinking about black voters, it’s possible that Biden can make an appeal among such voters if he’s facing white liberals like Warren and Sanders, which would help in South Carolina, for instance.

clare.malone: He’s an Upper Midwest/Pennsylvania candidate, and that’s what he’s billing himself as, I’d say.

But if Booker or Harris run, they would potentially neutralize a Biden advantage with black voters.

geoffrey.skelley: Exactly, Clare. If Harris or Booker are in, that weakens Biden’s case.

sarahf: OK, I think it’s time to move on to our No. 6 pick … Cory Booker.

clare.malone: He did some great grandstanding last week at the Ford/Kavanaugh hearings.

geoffrey.skelley: Every potential candidate has weaknesses, so Booker’s may be ties to Wall Street. But he’s good on the stump, safe to say.

sarahf: That said, I do think Booker is a very talented politician. He’s a great orator. And he’s really built a profile for himself as a #HellNo Democrat.

clare.malone: I think I’ve said this in previous drafts, but I find Booker to come off a bit gooberish in a way that could maybe grate during a campaign. He’s such the eager beaver. Of course, that might play very differently with an electorate that sees a candidate mostly through Facebook video feeds and so on.

Like, this dude has been running for president since he was mayor of Newark. It’s been a long time.

geoffrey.skelley: Hahaha, it’s so true.

Booker has been pegged as a potential presidential candidate since Day 1.

sarahf: OK, you’re up, Geoff.

geoffrey.skelley: Well, I think it’s time to shake things up.


sarahf: Oh my.

Clare, what do you think?

clare.malone: I think this.

But in all seriousness, I do think that if O’Rourke loses his Senate race, people will be trying to get him to run for president.

natesilver: That’s a predictable shake-up. I’m surprised he lasted this long.

geoffrey.skelley: I was just worried one of you would take him before it got back to me.

sarahf: We’re saving Jon Ossoff for later, Nate.

geoffrey.skelley: Funny thing is, if he were to upset Ted Cruz, that might reduce the chances he runs. Or at least, I’d be less likely to run for president if I’d just become a senator.

But if he comes close and generates all this coverage and Democratic enthusiasm as RFK 2.0 or something, I can see the attraction.

clare.malone: I think if he wins, he serves the Senate term.

All bets are off if he loses, because the next big Texas office doesn’t open up for a while.

natesilver: I guess his optimal scenario is that he loses like in a recount.

geoffrey.skelley: But President Trump might win re-election, so why not wait until 2024 if you’re O’Rourke in that case?

clare.malone: Ah, we’re getting to the dregs.

OK, I’m picking two, and one is Eric Holder. Pretty obvious reasons why: He’s a respected former attorney general who’s made voting rights a project, an African-American, and a close friend and ally of Obama, which would help in a campaign season. And God help me, but my other pick is Michael Avenatti, for no other reason than the world has gone mad and he’s on TV a lot.

sarahf: I was hoping someone would mention Avenatti!

clare.malone: Your wish is my command.

We needed to stir shit up here.

geoffrey.skelley: You just know the cable news channels won’t be able to resist covering him.

sarahf: I know mentioning him as a contender is very 🙄, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic!

clare.malone: Me neither, that’s why I picked him

natesilver: On the one hand, Avenatti is very Trumpian, which doesn’t seem like it would be a very good sell in a party that hates Trump.

On the other hand, politics is becoming exponentially more annoying every day, and so that would be the best way to stick to the trend.

micah: OK, I’m butting in here on that selection …

Clare …

Bad pick.

clare.malone: Which one, person-who’s-not-participating?


micah: Avenatti.

clare.malone: “A street fighter for Democracy,” etc. etc. The ads write themselves.

micah: Let’s not overlearn the lessons of 2016 — never write someone off, outsiders can win … “characters” can win. Those are true and worthwhile but not rules. After all, Democrats chose Hillary Clinton in 2016!!!

OK, I’m out.

Sorry, Sarah.

sarahf: What a note to leave on, Micah.

clare.malone: This is a low round pick. I doubt he will win, but I don’t doubt Avenatti will run.

sarahf: I think that’s solid. OK, Geoff, you’re up with the No. 10 pick.

geoffrey.skelley: Yeah, this is harder.

Let’s go with Amy Klobuchar.

Midwestern nice certainly would provide a contrast to the incumbent president.

clare.malone: Good pick.

geoffrey.skelley: And she got some very positive headlines out of the Kavanaugh hearing.

clare.malone: I debated picking her. I think the one thing about her is that her “brand” (ugh) won’t stick out as much in this year.

There are already a number of better-known women who will run.

And I think Biden’s probably taking up a lot of the Upper Midwestern voter appeal space.

But I think last week she was really impressive.

natesilver: Klobuchar is like as far as you can be from Trump, personality-wise. She’s the anti-Avenatti.

sarahf: OK, i’m going to piggyback off the Kavanaugh hearing publicity for Democrats and throw out Sen. Jeff Merkley, even if his lawsuit to stop the Kavanaugh vote was ill-advised.

He’s been considering running for a while and I think is another boring (but solid) possibility for Democrats come 2020 if it turns out the 2018 midterms aren’t as much of a progressive victory as expected.

We’ll be having a very different discussion if Andrew Gillum loses the governor’s in Florida or Kyrsten Sinema loses the Senate race in Arizona (even though they are very different candidates running for very different offices).

natesilver: Hmm … I think we’re rapidly running out of good candidates.

Or at least obvious ones.

sarahf: This is true, too.

clare.malone: JOHN KASICH

natesilver: Not your turn.

clare.malone: I know. Also, not a Democrat.

Which I think is at least a nominal requirement to get into this draft.

geoffrey.skelley: Michael Bloomberg would also like a word on that party ID question, maybe?

sarahf: But it is Nate’s turn! And he gets to pick two!

natesilver: I can’t believe I have to make two picks, I want to forfeit.

But let’s go with …


clare.malone: Bad pick.

natesilver: Sherrod Brown and Oprah Winfrey.

Bad picks.

geoffrey.skelley: This is my first chat, but I recall Oprah made an appearance in the last one.

natesilver: I do think she’d be very formidable if she ran.

geoffrey.skelley: Resources, name recognition, appeals to an interesting cross-section of the country …

clare.malone: Oprah and The Rock make an appearance in every draft we do.

sarahf: What a ticket!

clare.malone: Yeah, Oprah would probably win.

geoffrey.skelley: I’ll be sure to take Dwayne later on.

sarahf: Ugh, so it’s back to me. Can we just do four rounds? (Apparently, we can’t. Nate says a snake draft has to be six rounds.)

OK, rapid fire!

She’s not going to run, but I’d like to see a Mazie Hirono ticket.

geoffrey.skelley: Why not two Hawaiian presidents?

sarahf: Indeed!

OK, Geoff. You’re up.

geoffrey.skelley: Hmm, one white male governor … but which one?

sarahf: I’m going to say Hickenlooper if you don’t.

geoffrey.skelley: I think I’ll go with — oh, there you go.

Yes, John Hickenlooper is my pick.

A little too think-tank-y, maybe.

But who knows, swing-state governor with a background as a brewery owner?

sarahf: Gotta get the craft beer vote and the yoga vote.

OK, Clare you’re bestowed the honor of two picks.

clare.malone: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, just to fulfill the prophecy, and … even though I don’t think she’s ever going to actually run, Michelle Obama because she, like Oprah, would also probably win.

sarahf: Obama/Oprah another interesting (although unlikely) ticket.

geoffrey.skelley: Because he’s seemingly interested, I’ll take Deval Patrick for Round 5, Pick 2.

Though if he does run, the New Hampshire primary is going to be a New England homer event with Warren and Sanders potentially in the running as well. But this could weaken New Hampshire’s importance.

sarahf: I think this is the point in the conversation is where we talk about John Delaney. So I’ll submit him as my option for this round, and unlike my previous pick, at least he’s running!

natesilver: OMG

sarahf: Who knows! He could have a better stump speech than Lincoln Chafee.

geoffrey.skelley: I haven’t heard Delaney talk about the metric system, so that’s a start.

natesilver: Why not just pick Martin O’Malley while you’re at it, at least he was governor of something.

clare.malone: And was in a band.

Is in a band.

natesilver: O’Rourke/O’Malley 2020.

geoffrey.skelley: But is “I’m bipartisan” the appeal that will work in the 2020 Democratic primary?

Count me a skeptic.

sarahf: OK, Nate. You get to pick two.

natesilver: My god, how much more of this.

I’ll take uhhhhhhhhhhhhh …

clare.malone: Will no one rid me of this troublesome snake draft?

natesilver: Eric Garcetti.

And the guy I always take, Doug Jones.

geoffrey.skelley: The Doug Jones Memorial Pick

natesilver: I think he’s more likely a VP than a top-of-the-ticket guy, but still …

clare.malone: He is facing a tough 2020 re-election fight as a Democrat in Alabama.

natesilver: Which might be a reason why he quits the Senate and runs for POTUS instead?

He was pretty outspoken against Kavanaugh.

Which doesn’t seem like a move you’d make if you’re focused on Alabama.

sarahf: OK, this is thankfully the LAST ROUND. And good news, Clare, you only have to pick one this time!

But I have to go first.

And I’m going to go out with Jay Inslee! I know, yet another exciting 2020 former-governor pick.

Plus, he’s recently said he’s not ruling out a 2020 run.

geoffrey.skelley: Western governors are actually a plentiful Democratic candidate grouping.

sarahf: OK, what’s your last pick, Geoff?

geoffrey.skelley: Well, the late rounds of drafts are where you pick sleepers.

So I’m going with someone who isn’t even elected yet but is currently running.

Andrew Gillum.

sarahf: 🔥

clare.malone: OK, me next?

sarahf: Yep, Clare. Take us home.

clare.malone: I’m going with Mitch Landrieu, who, correct me if I’m wrong, none of us picked earlier?

geoffrey.skelley: He’s all yours

clare.malone: White, Southern, progressive … yada, yada, yada.

geoffrey.skelley: I’d say the one name I expected but didn’t see was Steve Bullock.

natesilver: Some of these picks feel very 2024ish to me.

geoffrey.skelley: Gillum certainly could be if things go his way.

sarahf: So now we have to vote on this madness? Is that how this shakes out?

natesilver: I don’t even like my team this time, so I’m going to vote myself last to preserve my credibility.

sarahf: Here are our teams. Who wants to vote first?

2020 Democratic Primary Draft, October 2018
Round Clare Geoff Sarah Nate
1 Elizabeth Warren Kamala Harris Kirsten Gillibrand Joe Biden
2 Eric Holder Beto O’Rourke Cory Booker Bernie Sanders
3 Michael Avenatti Amy Klobuchar Jeff Merkley Sherrod Brown
4 Dwayne Johnson John Hickenlooper Mazie Hirono Oprah Winfrey
5 Michelle Obama Deval Patrick John Delaney Eric Garcetti
6 Mitch Landrieu Andrew Gillum Jay Inslee Doug Jones

natesilver: I like Geoff’s team.

clare.malone: I’ll rank ’em: Clare, Geoff, Sarah, Nate.

sarahf: I’d vote Clare, Geoff, myself and then Nate, I guess.

geoffrey.skelley: I’ll be that guy and vote for myself

clare.malone: Even more the #1 team, then.

sarahf: I think this means we have a tie between Clare’s team and Geoff’s team.

Quite the slate, y’all.

geoffrey.skelley: I think a late-primary debate between Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren would certainly be something to behold if the field were to ever shrink to two (who knows).

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.

Clare Malone is a former senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Sarah Frostenson is FiveThirtyEight’s former politics editor.

Geoffrey Skelley is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.