Meet the 10 Democrat candidates in running to replace US President Joe Biden

The Economist
The President’s bumbling debate performance has focused attention on who could replace him as the Democratic Party’s nominee.
The President’s bumbling debate performance has focused attention on who could replace him as the Democratic Party’s nominee. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Long before last Friday’s debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump mercifully reached the 90-minute mark, names began popping up on serious social media accounts.

There had previously been no question that Mr Biden would be the Democratic Party’s nominee. Then the President’s bumbling performance made it a burning one. Here are brief profiles of 10 plausible alternatives to Mr Biden.

We selected them not because we would necessarily favour them, nor because they represent all of the party’s wings — but because we think they would have the best chance of winning over a divided convention.

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The party has credible leaders who run States, manage Federal departments and have birth certificates that were issued after D-day.

Andy Beshear, governor of Kentucky. Age 46

Mr Beshear is a vanishingly rare animal these days: a Democratic governor in a deep-red state (Mr Trump won Kentucky with about two-thirds of the vote in 2020). His low-key style, pragmatic politics and pedigree — his father occupied the same office — all help.

A poll in April by Morning Consult ranked Mr Beshear the most popular sitting Democratic governor, with an approval rating of 65 per cemt, and the fourth-most popular overall.

Last year he won re-election by touting the State’s low unemployment, large budget surplus and big factory investments by carmakers.

But a Republican supermajority in the State legislature has made it difficult to block laws that he dislikes: Republicans overrode 20 of his 23 vetoes in the past legislative session.

Pete Buttigieg.
Pete Buttigieg. Credit: Mariam Zuhaib/AP

Pete Buttigieg, transportation secretary. Age 42

A graduate of Harvard and Oxford, former McKinsey consultant and Navy veteran, Mr Buttigieg looks and sounds like many moderate, buttoned-up Democratic politicians before him—except for the fact that he is married to a man.

He would be the first openly gay person on a major party’s ticket. Few voters outside his home state of Indiana had heard of Mr Buttigieg before his run in the Democratic primary in 2020, when he won the first nominating contest, in Iowa, before eventually dropping out.

He was known throughout that campaign as Mayor Pete: his only elected office has been the mayoralty of South Bend, Indiana (population roughly 100,000).

Mr Biden later made him transportation secretary and put him in charge of distributing $126 billion of federal money, part of a big infrastructure law passed in 2021.

These days he is busy defending Mr Biden’s electric-vehicle subsidies against Republican attacks.

Kamala Harris, vice-president. Age 59 The obvious choice to replace Mr Biden. Unfortunately, she does not inspire confidence in Democratic grandees, and voters sense that. Recent polling by The Economist/YouGov suggests she is only a slightly more favourable option than her boss. Things did not always look so dismal.

The daughter of South Asian and Jamaican immigrants brought together by the civil rights movement, Ms Harris made history as America’s first non-white and first female vice-president. Before the Oval Office, she served as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney-general, and became a senator in 2017.

Ms Harris has been central to Mr Biden campaign’s recent efforts to drum up support among black voters, a group she struggled to impress during her own botched campaign for the presidency in 2020.

After criticism early in her term over her handling of the border, she has tried to conjure a distinct political identity. She has found her footing more recently on the issue of reproductive rights.

Gavin Newsom.
Gavin Newsom. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Gavin Newsom, governor of California. Age 56 The boss of deep-blue California has a better notion than most in this list of what it would mean to lead a country.

If it were a nation, California would have the world’s fifth-largest economy. It is home to both Silicon Valley and Hollywood. Mr Newsom has met Xi Jinping and Pope Francis; he is a nimble debater steeped in policy details.

He is also known to lots of Americans, thanks to his penchant for punditry on national television and as one of Mr Biden’s most vocal surrogates.

Were he the Democrats’ nominee, Mr Newsom and what he stands for (abortion rights, stricter gun laws, a faster transition away from fossil fuels) would be better known still.

That is a gift and a curse. Republicans see Mr Newsom as the embodiment of progressivism. San Francisco, where he was mayor in the early 2000s, is a byword for decline.

They say California’s problems —homelessness, high cost of living and a budget deficit — are proof of his mismanagement.

Jared Polis, governor of Colorado. Age 49 The second-term governor of Colorado has been burnishing his credentials ahead of a widely expected run for the presidency in 2028.

His pitch is compelling. Mr Polis is gay and Jewish, which could help his stock with Democrats who would like to see more diversity at the top of the ticket.

More important are his pragmatic politics. Colorado is solidly blue these days—thanks in part to Mr Polis.

In the early 2000s he was one of the liberal donors in the Gang of Four, which ran a successful campaign to elect Democrats at all levels of government in the state. Before he entered politics, Mr Polis was a tech entrepreneur: his net worth is at least $300m.

His western libertarianism helps charm Colorado’s many independent voters. He also understands Washington DC, having earlier spent a decade as a congressman for Colorado.

To be competitive, he would have to overcome a lack of national name-recognition, and revelations that he evaded paying income tax on his millions.

J.B. Pritzker, governor of Illinois. Age 59 On paper Mr Pritzker is not an obvious choice. He is from Chicago — a city Republicans loathe — and a billionaire heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune.

But he has built a reputation for political ruthlessness.

In the mid-terms in 2022 he won re-election; helped strengthen the Democratic supermajority in the Illinois State legislature by championing popular policies; and helped expand his party’s house delegation to a stonking 14 out of 17 seats, partly through financial support and signing off on new redistricting maps.

He has signed plenty of progressive legislation—expanding paid leave, banning assault rifles and eliminating cash bail—all while keeping moderates onside.

Nationally he has used his abortion-rights lobbying group, Think Big America, to spread his influence, and he is popular among Democratic activists.

Despite his wealth, he did not have an easy upbringing. His father died suddenly when he was seven; his alcoholic mother died in a car crash 10 years later.

Gina Raimondo, commerce secretary. Age 53

Ms Raimondo is popular with business leaders, and had already been floated, in a second Biden term, as a successor to Janet Yellen, the treasury secretary.

She has allocated billions of dollars to technology companies under the Chips Act, an array of incentives passed in 2022 to bring advanced chipmaking back to America.

The granddaughter of Italian immigrants, Ms Raimondo and her family suffered hardship when her father, a Navy veteran, lost his job after the factory he worked in closed and production moved to China.

Ms Raimondo went on to study at Harvard, Oxford and Yale before founding a venture-capital firm in 2001.

She served as Rhode Island’s treasurer before becoming the State’s first female governor in 2015. She is credited with drastically reforming Rhode Island’s public pension system, which was once the largest pension liability in America.

Josh Shapiro.
Josh Shapiro. Credit: Rachel Wisniewski/Bloomberg

Josh Shapiro, governor of Pennsylvania. Age 51 Being governor is “the only job I want to do”, said Mr Shapiro. But getting elected to that role in purple Pennsylvania may be good practice for a national run.

A moderate, Mr Shapiro often sounded Republican on the trail in 2022.

He had support from the left, centrists and even some Republicans—no small thing in a presidential battleground.

He trounced his opponent in a well-funded race, becoming the first Pennsylvania Democrat to succeed a Democratic incumbent in 64 years.

His motto, “Get stuff done” (or “Get s... done”, depending on his audience), is not just talk.

Unusually for a Democrat, he is a proponent of school vouchers. Last year his speedy reopening of I-95, a vital motorway that collapsed, won plaudits.

As attorney-general, he was in national headlines for his bombshell investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

A proudly observant Jew, he grew up outside Philadelphia—the son of a teacher and a former naval officer who inspired him to be a public servant.

Raphael Warnock, senator from Georgia. Age 54

Picking Mr Warnock, the first black Democratic senator from the South, would help slow the drift of black voters towards Mr Trump.

He would also increase Democrats’ chances of taking Georgia, a swing state that Mr Biden narrowly claimed in 2020 and looks likely to lose this year.

A charismatic speaker, the senator is fairly new to public office: he won his first race in 2021, in a special election to fill a seat vacated by a retiring Republican.

The next year he won a full term. The 11th of 12 children, Mr Warnock grew up in subsidised housing.

Both his parents were preachers, and he followed in their footsteps, becoming, at 35, the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, a post once held by Martin Luther King Jr. There his involvement in politics began.

He pushed for criminal-justice reform and expansions to Medicaid, a health-insurance program for the poor — and was once arrested at a protest.

Gretchen Whitmer.
Gretchen Whitmer. Credit: Ting Shen/Bloomberg

Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan. Age 52 In 2020 Democratic leaders selected Ms Whitmer, governor for barely a year, to deliver the rebuttal to Donald Trump’s state-of-the-union address.

Ms Whitmer’s star has only risen since, thanks to her pragmatic brand of politics and successful record in Michigan, a battleground state.

In 2022, campaigning hard for abortion rights, she won re-election by ten points; Democrats gained control of both houses of the legislature.

The Michigan native’s vowels are short and her “g”s sometimes drop (“these fundamental rights are at risk of bein’ ripped away”).

She wanted to be a sports presenter but, after an internship at the state’s House, became a lawmaker before turning 30.

Her national profile has made her a national target: Mr Trump urged supporters to “liberate” Michigan from her COVID -19 lockdowns, and in 2020 she was the object of a (foiled) right-wing kidnapping plot.

Fuelling speculation that she could be positioning herself for 2024, she is releasing a political memoir on July 9th, titled True Gretch. ■

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