Skip to main content
ABC News
Our Way-Too-Early 2020 Democratic Primary Draft

In this week’s politics chat, we check in on the Democratic presidential field for 2020. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): Today’s chat is going to be a crazy one. It’s too early to make any bold claims about how the 2020 Democratic primary field is shaping up, but potential candidates are already making maybe-I’ll-run-for-president moves. So, it’s time for … 🎈FIVETHIRTYEIGHT’S 2020 DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY DRAFT!!!🎈

We’ll do six rounds. The goal is to pick the eventual 2020 Democratic nominee, but you also get points for having people on your team who do well but don’t win. (We’ll figure out how to judge this later/never.)

Nate has all our names in a hat and is having a neutral nonparticipant randomly pick the draft order …

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): The order is:

  1. Micah
  2. Nate
  3. Perry
  4. Harry
  5. Clare

harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): I’m very excited.

micah: In a move that I think will make readers happy, we’re doing a snake draft! (Many readers have complained every time we’ve done a draft and haven’t used a snake draft.) Here’s the pool of potential draftees.

harry: I’m a big fan of the snake draft.

natesilver: SNAKES ON A DRAFT


clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): omg. I remember that like it was yesterday!

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): Wow, these are our readers, as Bill Simmons used to sorta say or maybe still says.

clare.malone: Memories, man, memories.

micah: With the first pick in FiveThirtyEight’s 2017 2020 Democratic presidential primary draft, Micah Cohen selects …

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

harry: Awful pick.

natesilver: She was not my No. 1, that’s for sure.

clare.malone: Bad pick.

micah: lol

It’s going to be one of those chats, huh?

harry: I could walk up to a random on the street, and they could pick better.

micah: So here’s my reasoning: Bernie Sanders but more substantive. Super smart. Has the policy chops and the liberal cred.

perry: Micah, I would have taken her too. I basically agree with your take.

natesilver: But seriously: She’s not a terrible choice, obviously. I just wonder if the retail political skills are there, first of all. And second, how excited she is to run.

micah: Nate, with the second pick …

natesilver: BERNIE FREAKING SANDERS (senator of Vermont).

harry: Nate has a Bernie fetish. Maybe it’s cause they both wear glasses. Nerds gotta stick together.

micah: Bad pick.

clare.malone: HE’LL TURN 79 IN 2020.

natesilver: We basically did a whole chat on why he’s the front-runner.

harry: I mean, you thought he was the front-runner.

clare.malone: I still think it’s misguided to think he will be the front-runner.

Don’t the normal rules apply at all? You want a guy up for re-election at 83? That’s pretty nutty.

harry: I concur with Clare.

natesilver: He could still be the front-runner and only have a 1-in-5 chance or a 1-in-10 chance of winning. It’s like the NCAA basketball tournament that way.

I just think — he’s got a hugely loyal following. He seems to be interested in running.

He finished second in 2016. He’s leading in polls. Even if he’s old, his demographics are young, which is helpful.

harry: The issue here is I don’t think he’ll be the front-runner once the field emerges. He’s a top 10 pick or maybe even a top five. I’m not sure he’s a top two.

clare.malone: Agree.

natesilver: A big field helps someone with a distinctive brand like Sanders.

harry: Maybe? But you still need to get close to a majority of the vote to win in a Democratic primary.

micah: And Bernie still has an issue with black voters. Talk to me about being the front-runner for the Democratic nomination when he solves that.

Perry, you’re up with the No. 3 pick …

perry: Clare is going to pick the person I should pick, or maybe Harry will, but I’m going to go with Joe Biden, former vice president. He would win the general election easily today over President Trump, I think. He is well-known, generally viewed favorably. I don’t know exactly how he wins the Democratic primary (he doesn’t have obvious base), but I’m going with him. Not very confidently.

micah: Hmmm…

clare.malone: Interesting!

harry: Not a bad pick.

natesilver: Wow. Democrats are old.

clare.malone: Yes.

Very big problem.

perry: Biden is 74 now.

harry: Trump isn’t young.

clare.malone: He is younger than all these people are — minus Warren.

harry: He’s not THAT much younger.

clare.malone: 71.

perry: I see a really crowded field in 2020 where being well-known helps. Biden has some potentially strong appeal to moderate Democrats and African-Americans.

clare.malone: Fair reasoning.

micah: OK, Harry with the No. 4 pick.

harry: Harris, Kamala. Senator from California.

clare.malone: Boo! You stole my pick.

perry: This is a good pick.

natesilver: The top four were the same top four on my board

Still, bad picks.

micah: I actually had her at No. 4 on my board. But my No. 2 still hasn’t been drafted.

natesilver: Harris has probably increased her profile as much as anyone this year.

clare.malone: Agreed.

perry: I still think winning the nomination as a first-term senator is hard. She is impressive, and Obama obviously did it, but I’m not sure it will happen again.

natesilver: To be honest, the fact that she’s taken some fire from the Sanders wing of the party probably doesn’t hurt her profile. You just want to have your name out there — as Trump showed in 2015.

perry: Right. Harris has had the biggest rise of any of these people. We all agree she is ahead of Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand already, right?

clare.malone: Yes.

harry: I believe she is, yes.

micah: Yes … though I’m much more confident that Harris is ahead of Booker than Gillibrand. Not to tip my hand too much.

clare.malone: Booker’s played out, in my humble opinion (which might be in the minority).

micah: OK, Clare with the No. 5 pick and the No. 6 pick!

clare.malone: Ooh, two picks! SNAKE-y.

micah: Yeah, picking first sucks in a snake draft.

clare.malone: Gillibrand, New York senator, is my first pick.

micah: Good pick!

I really like Gillibrand as a candidate.

perry: Agree. She is solidly left on key issues.

clare.malone: She’s pretty affable, has worked her way up, started in a conservative district and had some pro-gun stances that have since switched … and in general is pretty good at articulating why she’s “evolved” on things.

harry: I’m going to be interested in whether her pre-Senate record causes her any problems, as Clare notes.

clare.malone: That’s where her weaknesses lie, but she’s talented in the way that she explains them.

perry: I’m just not sure Democrats will nominate a female senator from New York again, unfair as I think that might be. She and Hillary Clinton are way different.

natesilver: She might come to be seen as part of the establishment by the left — in part because she raises a lot of money from Wall Street.

micah: (I think Harry is peeking at my draft board.)

harry: (I’m eating chicken, Micah.)

clare.malone: Gillibrand is good at … how shall I say this … modulating her “powerful woman” thing. It’s a skill that a lot of younger professional women (Gen X-ers) have perfected in a way that Baby Boomer women have not.

perry: Interesting.

clare.malone: But Gillibrand has also been really outspoken about sexism in the Senate, etc.

So. She’s interesting!

natesilver: She also strikes me as being fairly likely to run. She’s voted with Trump less than anyone else this year — including Bernie — which suggests she really wants to prove her anti-Trump/lefty credentials.

perry: Three of the first five picks are women.

micah: Four of the top five on my board are women.

Clare, with the No. 6 pick!

clare.malone: OK, so, this one might be a little out there …

But I’m going to go with Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan.

Hear me out!

harry: Oh, Clare.

natesilver: Ohio homer pick there.

clare.malone: lol


OK … BUT …

Ryan is going to be the kind of person likely to run because he’s already challenged leadership (House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi) in a formalized way, and his whole schtick is going for the Upper Midwest Obama-Trump voter, which I think is going to be one of the main schools of thought in the Democratic primary. He goes on Fox News, engages, is from Youngstown. I dunno, I’m calling him as a dark horse pick!

Jason Kander would be the “smart pick” on this. But I didn’t do that. 🙂

natesilver: LeBron James will be 35 years old by 2020.

clare.malone: Dude, LeBron is a legit genius, so he will not be a politician.

natesilver: I don’t think Ryan is totally implausible — he can sorta be centrist/populist without seeming like too much of an establishment hack. But — in the second round?

clare.malone: hahaha. Yes.

micah: OK, Harry, you have the No. 7 pick.

harry: I have a number of people I’ve been thinking of, but I’m going with Amy Klobuchar, senator from Minnesota. That might be a little high, but if nothing else, she’s been to Iowa.

natesilver: I’ve been to Iowa, too.

perry: It is high. What Nate said.

micah: I’m fine with that pick.

harry: We’ve reached a less obvious portion of the draft.

There are a bunch of others who are on my radar.

natesilver: Maybe in the fourth round.

harry: You overestimate this field.

clare.malone: Tim Ryan and Amy Klobuchar, fourth round picks, elevated.

micah: My No. 2 is still available!

clare.malone: Eric Garcetti or something?

micah: I’m not saying!

Perry, you’re up!

No. 8.

perry: I know this group does not view him as very great in terms of political skill, but … Booker. He has charisma, he’s been preparing for this his whole life, I think the race/identity issues where he is stronger will be bigger in 2020 than the Wall Street ones.

harry: Meh.

micah: Yeah, this group is very Booker-skeptical.

natesilver: I guess what I’m wondering is — who’s Booker’s natural constituency?

clare.malone: People with snowy driveways in Newark.

perry: He could do well with the people who voted for Obama in the 2008 primary — urban, upper-income liberals and African-Americans. He should obviously pray that Harris does not run.

harry: But OnTheIssues gets at one of Booker’s problems: He’s rated as a “Libertarian-Leaning Progressive.” I just wonder how he’ll play with economic populists.

micah: Nate, you have the No. 9 pick.

natesilver: I’m trying to figure out who Micah is going to pick so I can steal it.

perry: I think Clare got him with Garcetti, who’s a good one, actually.

natesilver: Micah implied that his next pick is a woman.

micah: Don’t do it.

clare.malone: Micah’s just jealous that Tim Ryan got picked.

micah: lol

Ummmm … no.

clare.malone: heh

micah: Tick tock, Nate!!!

clare.malone: When you guys have to buy me a really nice dinner in 2020, you’ll be sorry.

natesilver: 🤔

harry: Apparently, it isn’t as easy as it seems.

micah: PICK, NATE!!!

natesilver: Michelle Obama.

clare.malone: no.

Terrible choice.

micah: HAHAHA

I totally psyched Nate out!

harry: That’s maybe the worst pick of all the drafts we’ve ever done.

perry: She would be a great candidate. I just hope for her sake she doesn’t run. The worst thing for her might be winning.

natesilver: She’s actually pretty high on betting markets.

micah: Agreed. If she ran, I’d put her as No. 1 … but she’s not going to run, right?

clare.malone: She won’t run.

micah: That was a terrible pick.

natesilver: Michelle Obama is a great pick. She’d be an instant front-runner.

clare.malone: But she won’t run. She has no desire to run.

natesilver: The Obamas are young. You think they’re just sitting back happy with how things are turning out?

clare.malone: It’s the classic philosopher king dilemma: The (wo)man best suited for the job has no desire to do it.

micah: She would be an instant front-runner.

perry: Didn’t the Obamas kind of lose in 2016?

natesilver: So they have to redeem themselves, right? Like, Barack Obama would run again if he were eligible to, I think.

clare.malone: Michelle Obama would subject herself to some really ugly racial and gender stuff.

micah: From everything we know about Michelle, she won’t run. She didn’t want Barack to run.

I could see her doing it only out of a sense of duty? To “save the country”?

harry: I’m skeptical, but who knows?

I still think Nathaniel got psyched out.

micah: He totally did.

natesilver: I’m just saying I’d rather have Michelle Obama than Amy Klobuchar.

micah: OK, so with the 10th pick, I select the person I would have taken No. 2 overall. This is the pick I misled Nate into thinking would be a woman.

It’s … AL FREAKIN’ FRANKEN!!!!!!!!!!!

clare.malone: Ooh. I like that one.

perry: He is a great pick.

natesilver: He’s a woman?

micah: I purposefully tricked you, Nate!

perry: I just see no evidence he is running.

clare.malone: Book.

perry: The Democratic base would love him

clare.malone: He’s actually a great foil to Trump. Outspoken, funny, can roll with things.

harry: I was thinking of him, but I didn’t go for it. The reason is what Perry is getting at: He’s said there’s pretty much no shot of him running. While people change their mind, I tend to believe him.

micah: Yeah, just released a book. Has progressive bona fides. Is debate ready. And a great foil for Trump, as Clare said. And Harry, every person who has ever run for president ever started out by swearing up and down that they wouldn’t run. “I will not [run].”


clare.malone: But yeah, does he have a desire? I dunno.

micah: To rescue the country from Trump (from his POV)? That’ll be hard to turn down.

natesilver: I’m still mad that you intentionally lied to our readers, Micah.

micah: To you, Nate. Not our readers.

OK, this next pick, No. 11, is tricky …

I’m going with … Deval Patrick, former governor of Massachusetts.

harry: He’s going with Mr. Bain.

clare.malone: hm.

micah: The Obama people (including Obama) are reportedly urging him to run.

natesilver: Meh

micah: But yeah, he’s a managing director at Bain …


clare.malone: NOT GREAT

natesilver: You didn’t know that before making the pick, Micah, did you.

harry: LOL.

micah: I knew he was Wall Street-ing it.

OK, Nate, you have the No. 12 pick.

Don’t break your crappy-pick streak.

natesilver: You guys are going to love this one.

micah: oh god.

natesilver: Can we play hangman?

– – – – – – –
– – – – – –
– – – – – – –

Just pick one letter

micah: C

harry: Q

– – – – – – –
– – – – – –
C – – – – – –

clare.malone: THE ROCK!

micah: I was going to pick Hillary Clinton instead of Patrick!

clare.malone: heh.


micah: Good pick!

harry: Nate has been banned from the chat for forever. You too, Micah.

perry: Oh, The Rock would have been better

clare.malone: Pandemonium!!!!!!

natesilver: There are a fair number of repeat nominees throughout presidential history.

micah: She won the popular vote!

perry: The book tour has been honest. But America is not going to elect a woman or a nonwhite person who seems angry. And who has suggested America is kind of sexist.

clare.malone: Yeah.

micah: The media is “tired” of her and projects that onto voters, though.

clare.malone: No way she gets elected.

natesilver: And what if Robert Mueller turned up substantial evidence of Russian interference? And by 2019 or so, the perception had become that she was robbed of the presidency. I’m not saying this is likely exactly. But I think any of the people we’re picking at this point has only a small chance anyway.

perry: NO way she gets elected and the polls will show that. Also, the Bernie people hate her. The Obama people voted for her kind of out of obligation.

natesilver: By the way — you should also be thinking about who a compromise choice could be in the event of a …. B-R-O-K-E-R-E-D C-O-N-V-E-N-T-I-O-N.

micah: Oh, jeez.

Perry, you have the No. 13 pick.

natesilver: The way the Democratic primaries are set up, a brokered convention is not at all unlikely if you have 17 people running.

micah: Perry, you have the No. 13 pick.

perry: Garcetti, Los Angeles mayor. Being a mayor, sort of an outsider, great resume, I can see him as kind of an Obama-like figure. And he is from a great city, in terms of winning there requires you to master so many constituencies (race but also class) and having lots of wealthy people who can help you campaign.

micah: Great pick!

clare.malone: I agree that it’s interesting.

micah: I was actually considering another big city mayor.

natesilver: Can’t believe you took him with Jon Ossoff still on the board.

perry: Lol.

clare.malone: Tests out the theory of 1) the power of America’s Democratic mayors, and 2) California as a Democratic sanctuary state in the Trump era.

perry: Right.

micah: Harry, you have the 14th pick.

(This is where Harry usually goes off the rails.)

harry: You’ll say it’s too high, but I’m going with Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.

natesilver: Too high.

micah: Nah, I had him No. 15 on my board.

Good pick.

harry: You’ll note my strategy here is to pick people I think will run.

natesilver: Yeah I think that’s actually the wrong strategy!

clare.malone: hah.

natesilver: You want high upside. It’s like you keep drafting punters just because you know they’ll be on the roster!

Amy Klobuchar is more likely than Michelle Obama to finish third in the Iowa caucuses, but Michelle Obama is more likely to win the Iowa caucuses.

perry: That first sentence, but with “seventh” instead of “third,” would be accurate.

micah: OK, Clare, you have the last pick in the third round and the first pick in the fourth round. Here’s what I suggest: Make the third round pick … then we’ll do rapid-fire rounds from Round 4 on — everyone makes their pick, then we discuss the round as a whole.

clare.malone: The Rock.


harry: The Rock is who I was thinking about instead of Bullock.

micah: I can’t criticize anything having to do with The Rock.

natesilver: Is he even a Democrat?

micah: We don’t know.

clare.malone: Exactly. Perfect for 2020.

natesilver: Democrats like Democrats though!

clare.malone: Everyone likes The Rock.

micah: I was about to type that!

clare.malone: He certainly has more juice than the governor of Montana or … Tim Ryan. 😕

natesilver: OK, to speed things up here: Slack will autodraft a pick if you don’t pick within 20 seconds, and right now the autodraft pick is Ossoff.

clare.malone: hahahaha.

micah: Round 4 is Clare, Harry, Perry, Nate, Micah — everyone just make your pick, no commentary.

Clare first.

natesilver: 10 seconds

5 seconds remain

micah: tick tock!!!



clare.malone: God, this is the dregs.

John Hickenlooper, governor of Colorado.

harry: Jason Kander.

perry: Chris Murphy.

natesilver: Sherrod Brown.

micah: Roy Cooper.

I win that round.

Clare loses.

perry: Nate’s was best of that group, I think

natesilver: Yeah, Brown is like Tim Ryan — but a senator!

clare.malone: lol.

natesilver: Although he has to survive re-election next year.

harry: I’m fine with most of these picks, to be honest.

micah: Round 5: Micah, Nate, Perry, Harry, Clare.

My pick: Kasim Reed.

natesilver: Bill de Blasio.

perry: Mark Zuckerberg.

harry: Mitch Landrieu.

clare.malone: Mark Cuban.

micah: The celebrity round!

natesilver: It’s the mayor round. I’m not sure if Bill de Blasio counts as a celebrity.

micah: He does count as the worst pick in this draft, though.

harry: I cannot believe you selected de Blasio.

perry: Landrieu is a good pick.

natesilver: De Blasio has real progressive credibility, but he’s a “safe” white guy. Which fills … a weird niche in the party.

micah: He’s not even that popular in NYC!

natesilver: He’s gonna get re-elected in a landslide!

harry: The man’s favorable rating in New York City doesn’t even hit 50 percent.

perry: Garcetti hits that niche Nate is describing, and people actually like him.

clare.malone: Seconded.

natesilver: I’m not saying he’s a great pick but … in the fifth round? Sure.

micah: Round 6! Clare, Harry, Perry, Nate, Micah.


I guarantee I get the steal of the draft with the last pick.

clare.malone: Julian Castro, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

natesilver: Crap. I was gonna pick him.

harry: John Kerry.

perry: Jeff Merkley, Oregon senator. He is apparently quite liberal (I don’t know much about him), so if Bernie does not run and Warren does not either … he can finish seventh in Iowa.

micah: lol.



micah: SHIT!

natesilver: wow


harry: LOL.

clare.malone: What about Terry McAuliffe — The Macker.

perry: Jimmy Carter?

natesilver: You can draft him if we add a seventh round.

harry: Michael Dukakis, you sheeple.

micah: Martin O’Malley.

He’ll run, at least.

natesilver: O’MALLEY WOULD’VE WON IN 2016.

clare.malone: Oh yeah.

harry: Play me one of his guitar solos, so I don’t need to take a sleeping pill tonight.

natesilver: So … so people who the conventional wisdom might rate highly that we didn’t pick include Andrew Cuomo and Tim Kaine.

harry: Cuomo is the definition of poison to progressives.

natesilver: No Terry McAuliffe. No Jerry Brown.

And no Ossoff.

harry: Brown is quite old.

clare.malone: But he loves running for president.

natesilver: The average age of people we picked is like 90 though.

perry: McAuliffe would be ideal in some ways if he were not best friends with Bill and Hillary.

clare.malone: Cuomo and McAuliffe are definitely gonna run, I think.

McAuliffe’s got money connections, but yeah, they’re Clinton-tinted.

natesilver: Cuomo’s a guy who might have more of a chance if the party weren’t moving left.

In theory, someone like Joe Manchin or Steve Bullock could fill the moderate/centrist role without having as much baggage

clare.malone: I don’t think Cuomo is very … charming.

natesilver: Yeah, that too.

perry: That is very polite, Clare.

micah: Here are the teams:

Our way-too-early 2020 Democratic primary teams
1 Elizabeth Warren Bernie Sanders Joe Biden Kamala Harris Kirsten Gillibrand
2 Al Franken Michelle Obama Cory Booker Amy Klobuchar Tim Ryan
3 Deval Patrick Hillary Clinton Eric Garcetti Steve Bullock Dwayne Johnson
4 Roy Cooper Sherrod Brown Chris Murphy Jason Kander John Hickenlooper
5 Kasim Reed Bill de Blasio Mark Zuckerberg Mitch Landrieu Mark Cuban
6 Martin O’Malley Al Gore Jeff Merkley John Kerry Julian Castro

natesilver: OK … everybody pick who has the best team apart from their own.

clare.malone: Well, I’m likely to lose, but if I win, man are you guys gonna be surprised!

Micah or Harry.

harry: Women were six of the first 12 picks and none after.

perry: Micah. As I think Franken is very good if he runs, and I’m high on Warren

natesilver: For me, the best non-Nate team is …

I can’t pick, they’re all so great.

clare.malone: Nate, your team and my team are trash.

But yours are all famous trash picks.

natesilver: I’ve got FRICKING BERNIE.


natesilver: I’d go Micah’s

micah: lol

I’d go Nate’s … actually, I’m going with Perry’s.

harry: I’m going with Clare’s since she picked me.

clare.malone: Thanks, man.

micah: omg

clare.malone: heh

natesilver: Clare I think your team was pretty good except for Tim Ryan.

micah: OK, so since Clare picked two teams, her votes each count as .5.

So it’s:

Micah 2.5 votes.

Clare 1.

Harry 1.5.

Perry 1.

Nate 0.

I win. Nate loses.

clare.malone: Fair.

micah: That’s satisfying.

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

Clare Malone is a former senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Perry Bacon Jr. was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.