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Some Democrats Who Could Step Up If Hillary Isn’t Ready For Hillary

Hillary Clinton is probably going to run for president, and she’s probably going to be the Democratic nominee in 2016. Both those things are likely. But let’s say Clinton falters — some major scandal comes to light, or she has health problems. Who could step in?

Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders and Jim Webb are preparing for such a possibility. But they’re not exactly political powerhouses, and so we come to another question: Is the Democratic bench really that weak?

One way to look at that question is via fundraising. A late entrant in 2016 would need to raise money quickly, and the ability to raise money is a decent proxy for appeal and organizing strength. It’s part of the reason Elizabeth Warren is thought of as such a powerful force in the Democratic Party. She raised over $42 million in her 2012 bid for Senate.

Warren’s is a clear case, but simple fundraising numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Factors such as whether a candidate is running for statewide or federal office, whether she’s an incumbent, the competitiveness of her election1 and the size of her home-state donor base2 all affect fundraising.

Keeping all these variables in mind, I looked at how much Democratic governors and senators who won their last campaign raised during the 2010, 2012 and 2014 cycles3 and who outperformed their expected fundraising totals.4

Besides Democratic Party leaders in the Senate — such as former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair Bob Menendez, Minority Leader Harry Reid and Vice Chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus Chuck Schumer — many of the candidates who greatly outperformed fundraising expectations are the ones we normally talk about as contenders for the presidency. Here’s the data in full. And here are the top 25 Democrats who beat expectations:

Elizabeth Warren $24.4m $42.5m +$18.1m
Andrew Cuomo 30.7 48.0 +17.3
Al Franken 17.2 30.8 +13.6
Harry Reid 13.6 24.8 +11.2
Sherrod Brown 18.1 24.8 +6.8
Bob Menendez 10.7 17.3 +6.7
Chuck Schumer 13.4 19.5 +6.1
Deval Patrick 11.8 16.3 +4.5
Jeanne Shaheen 12.2 16.5 +4.3
Claire McCaskill 17.0 21.1 +4.1
Bob Casey 10.7 14.1 +3.5
Tammy Baldwin 11.3 14.6 +3.4
Chris Murphy 7.6 10.5 +3.0
Joe Donnelly 2.8 5.7 +2.8
Mazie Hirono 2.8 5.5 +2.8
Patty Murray 14.8 17.1 +2.4
Kirsten Gillibrand 13.4 15.7 +2.3
Jeff Merkley 10.0 12.0 +2.0
Cory Booker 16.2 17.7 +1.5
Earl Ray Tomblin 6.2 7.7 +1.4
Jon Tester 12.0 13.4 +1.4
Mike Beebe 3.7 5.1 +1.4
Steve Beshear 9.5 10.6 +1.1
John Kitzhaber 4.2 5.3 +1.1
Brian Schatz 5.1 6.1 +1.0

Warren, Andrew Cuomo and Deval Patrick are all unlikely to run in 2016, but they’ve been included in a lot of polls. And all three have been prolific fundraisers. Warren raised over $18 million more than expected. Cuomo and Patrick were also among the top performers, even after controlling for their wealthy East Coast donor bases.

Two names popped up, though, that were more surprising. Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Al Franken of Minnesota both raised a lot more money in their 2012 and 2014 campaigns, respectively, than we might have expected. Would they be running in 2016 if Clinton wasn’t?

Some journalists have, in fact, wondered why Brown doesn’t run. He’s seen as a darling of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and he’s managed to win two terms in Ohio, a crucial swing state.

Franken, too, has been the subject of a bit of presidential speculation. He easily won re-election in Minnesota, not an overwhelmingly blue state, in 2014, a very tough year for Democrats nationally. And he wouldn’t be the first actor-turned-politician to make a run for the White House.

Going down the list: a number of well-known and relatively young Democrats such as Tammy Baldwin, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Chris Murphy all exceeded fundraising expectations by more than $1 million in their last bids for office. Booker and Gillibrand did so despite having far less than a full term to raise money. All four have been the subject of at least a little White House talk.

Overall, Democrats have several people on the bench first in line to step in on the national stage. Chances are that won’t happen in 2016. But given their age, Baldwin, Booker, Gillibrand and Murphy in particular are young enough that we could see them run in future races.


  1. As measured at the beginning of the campaign by the Cook Political Report.

  2. As measured by the total amount of money donated by state residents to Democratic candidates for federal office over the 2000-2012 period.

  3. Self-funded candidate Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is excluded from this analysis.

  4. Data for senators is taken from Open Secrets. Data for governors is taken from Follow The Money. I combined the two-year totals for governors who face re-election every two years instead of four. In some cases, Follow The Money is still updating its numbers from the 2014 cycle, but the conclusions reached here should not be affected by incomplete tallies.

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