Todd Ranks His Preferences: The Democratic Presidential Contenders

The Iowa Caucuses are less than 11 months away (Feb. 3, 2020), so it’s actually not too early for me to weigh in on our current stock of Democratic contenders. Quickly in some cases, and more substantially in others, here’s my ranking of who I am supporting in specific order and a few notes on why, or what I see as their weaknesses. Again, this is literally my “temperature” at 6:30PM on March 12, and is of course subject to change.

In least preferred à most preferred order, here are my current preferences:

13.         Tulsi Gabbard

Erin and I were in vacationing in Hawaii in August, 2012 just prior to the 2nd District Congressional primary. “Tulsi Mania” was in full effect, and her posters were everywhere. 7 years later, she’s early in her 4th term of a somewhat odd and interesting tenure in the U.S. House. I believe she’s turned a page on her formerly anti-LGBTQ views and is sincerely sorry she held them. She’s made clear as a war veteran that she favors a less interventionist foreign policy, which is fine. But she can’t live down her inability to call out Bashir Al Assad for the murderous dictator that he is, though she was willing to admit close to it on a recent appearance with Stephen Colbert. This, of course, following her unsanctioned visit to Syria some years ago that took her Leader, Nancy Pelosi, by unpleasant surprise. She claimed there was no proof Assad’s government had used chemical weapons (which she now admits), which struck just about everyone NOT named Assad as peculiar at best. She actually met with Trump during his transition to consider a place in his administration, which I can’t see as noble bipartisanship because it’s Trump. And she’s handled her campaign launch terribly, botching some staffing challenges and rumor milling. I really want to like Tulsi Gabbard, but I am just no longer sure if I can trust her. She is going nowhere fast and would be wise to promptly drop out of the race and fight to keep her House seat (where she already has a progressive challenger).

12.         Julian Castro

BOOOOO-RrrrriiiiIIIIINNNNggggggGGGGG!!!!  There is nothing Julian Castro is espousing that isn’t being proposed by other candidates in a much more charismatic way. I like this guy for some role, but definitely not president.

11.         John Hickenlooper

Colorado is a Top 5 favorite state for me, if not Top 3. I have family there who I dearly love. And by all accounts, John Hickenlooper was an effective 2-term governor. But this guy LITERALLY has said he would build bipartisanship thusly:

“When I come into office, I would go to Mitch McConnell to his office and I would sit down with him and say, ‘Now what is the issue again?’ and we would talk and I would continue to speak back to him – it sounds silly, right? But this works….”

Hickenlooper is due for a rude awakening in Washington, and CLEARLY hasn’t been paying attention to Mitch McConnell and how he works. You think Obama and Biden didn’t try this?  It may work with reasonable people, Governor, but not most of today’s Republican Party, and certainly not its tortoise-like leader.

10.         Bernie

I generally don’t favor cranky people who think they are the only one who can solve something. What’s more, Bernie’s most ardent backers are often cult-like to the point of being no more reasonable than a certain someone else’s supporters. But the biggest argument is this: LEADING a successful legislative package and complete policy shift in this country — versus merely speechifying and saying all the right things to motivate people … are two different things. The latter may get you elected. The former is needed to truly repair the country and move a true revolution forward. So, Bernie’s pretty good, but hardly close to a first choice. And his true believers can calm the fuck down about that.

9.           Kirsten Gillibrand

She’s got the brains. She’s got the looks. Let’s … make lots of money?  I don’t know what to say about Kirsten Gillibrand except to that she is VERY polished on the stump and good at convincing you she’s somehow always been progressive on things like Medicare for All, when we know she was a very moderate House member. So, more power to her if she’s genuinely come around on several issues. But she’s the one candidate I trust LEAST to REMAIN as Progressive as her stump speech if elected president.

8.           Beto O’Rourke

Like the rest of Democratic America, I love the way he ran for Senate in Texas. He went to small towns and reached the grassroots. He made voters out of non-voters and effectively made the case he was running to be a Senator for all of Texas and not just Austin, Texas. So, is he a savior or is he Harold Hill?  Time will tell, and I’ll take that time to find out.

7.           Cory Booker

Cory Booker is all about love and loving your neighbor. He loves his mom and loves pointing out that we need to love our most ardent opponents (He should hang out with Hickenlooper). He’s handsome and charismatic and says a lot of great stuff. But I am still seeking where the hell the CORE of this man is as a policy and legislative philosophy (besides… love). Is he all sizzle and no steak?  Seems like it. He also likes taking money from Wall Street and Big Pharma, who, granted, make up a lot of New Jersey residents. But I think we can do better than Booker. Maybe VP, and certainly I hope a lifetime Senator at the very least.

6.           Uncle Joe

Let’s accept and let go the fact that Joe Biden has said a LOT of stupid stuff. And let’s get it out of the way right now to admit that Uncle Joe will CONTINUE to put his foot in it occasionally. As a guy who knows that feeling well, I sympathize. And sure, Joe Biden is the one candidate that the loudest activists will bark “isn’t progressive enough” to be the Democratic nominee. But you know what kind of people like Joe Biden?  The kind of people that live in states connected to a Great Lake. And I’ll take ALL of those voters, please.

5.           Amy Klobuchar

She don’t need no stinking eye glasses. She’s in her contacts and squinting stage because too many image consultants probably told her she looks like a librarian. I think she looks like a tough cookie who will work her ass off for the American people. Sure, there are articles that exist that claim she’s been hard on, if not abusive, to staff. But where are the articles on the literal dozens of dickish male bosses among D.C.’s ranks? My hesitation with Amy Klobuchar is that she’s just not progressive enough for me. I don’t think the way to fix the damage done by Trump, and the incredible work we need to do on income inequality and middle-class affordability, is by way of a centrist path. I would accept her as a viable VP nod and yes, she helps in the Midwest, don’tcha know.

4.           Jay Inslee

He looks like a guy that was the nose tackle of his high school football team and talks a little like the guy who’s taken the hits to prove it. But that upper northwest heartiness could serve him well. He’s served both in the House and as a governor (in his second term), and is LEADING message is the battle against climate change and the need to create a green energy future with green energy jobs. He’s not just saying it’s a top issue. He’s challenging all his fellow Democratic candidates but saying that climate is THE BALLGAME.

3.           Pete Buttigieg

Yep, like many folks, I’ve got a little “Mayor Pete Fever” flowing through my veins!  He’s Midwestern and looks every bit the wholesome part. I can imagine his photo next to “integrity” in the Dictionary. Young, a veteran, and mayor of a middle-sized city, he can claim executive and local government experience in the same breath. He appears to be quick on his feet and not easily rattled, again likely the benefit of his Midwestern core. He’s gay, but anybody voting AGAINST him for that isn’t voting for whoever our nominee is anyway. If he’s not on the ticket, he better be somewhere in this administration!

2.           Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris is MY Junior Senator, a great one, and a woman with real gravitas. She is seemingly afraid of nothing or no one, and conversely, is the ONLY candidate Donald Trump seems to truly fear. She’s served as a traditional liberal Democratic Attorney General but has proven progressive credentials on several issues and is growing her wings on others. She’s incredibly well spoken and a clear leader. Kim Jong Un is NOT going to have as much fun with Kamala Harris in his face, and that speaks volumes. Her only weakness is the industrial Midwest voter and talking enough about jobs (I’ve yet to hear it), which she can probably solve with a Sherrod Brown pick as VP.

1.           Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren is MY KIND OF CAPITALIST, pure and simple. Where John McCain was always seen as Teddy Roosevelt’s modern heir when it came to the military and war mongering, Warren is far more an heir apparent on leveling the playing field, taking on big corporations, and fundamentally changing our campaign finance system (where McCain also deserves some kudos). Sure, she blew the Native American issue, and Trump will hammer her with his racist nickname for her. But she’ll be Kamala Harris-esque in debates with Trump and walk circles around him on policy. She’s also been by far the most consistent candidate, and showed real GUTS by stating publicly that she’ll take on “Big Tech” not only for their inflated influence in lobbying and economic gains, but also their control over our daily lives. She’ll win over working-class voters with her message of a market-based system that is more fair and can enrich us all, and through the way she articulates her values that people deserve a fair shake they aren’t getting now. I’ll grant you that her VP pick will be CRITICAL, and it may take a Steve Bullock (Montana Governor) type to balance her out and toughen her ticket up a little. But right now, it’s Primary Season. And in the Primaries, we get to vote for who we feel a kinship with, and who we WANT to be President. She’s my candidate, right now, on March 13, and not sure I see that changing soon barring something unforeseen.

Now let’s get some comments going!


  1. Great work here, Todd. It’s a service. I will pay more attention to Mayor Pete. Not sure the midsize mayor credentials offer the chops I’m looking for, but am open minded.

    One note about Cory Booker…Is he all sizzle and no steak? A good moment to point out he is vegan 🙂

  2. I mostly agree with you, especially about Bernie (everything you said), Kamala, and Elizabeth. I would probably swap 1 and 2 mostly for polish and because I am a Californian. Support of charter schools (and vouchers and other privatization efforts even those cloaked fake well meaning rhetoric) is a deal breaker for me… so Cory B is out.

  3. This is the best qualitative, high-level summary I’ve seen to-date (as opposed to a less thorough but equally important policy position comparison I saw in the form of charts and graphs some weeks ago). I prioritize passion, integrity and competence in my candidates and, so, I say Gabbard deserves a higher ranking since, like, Warren, she’s relentlessly vocal about the multi-generational financial implications of policy decisions; at this point, I think Gillibrand is wrestling away the ‘most boring award’ from Castro; Buttigieg and O’Rourke demonstrate wisdom far beyond their profile expectations; Bernie and Uncle Joe should not be underestimated at position 10 and 6 on your list; Booker is sure to attract damaging wrath from the left; Harris is an important but not necessarily presidential voice in the mix; and author Marianne Williamson needs to be in the debates!

    • As I said, these are my order of PREFERENCES, Armando. There are clearly “viability” points I make, to be sure, but where I place Bernie and Biden is more about who I prefer more than their viability… especially given they are front-runners. Marianne Williamson is a cult candidate who couldn’t even come close to winning a congressional primary.

      • Understood. Admittedly, I found myself attempting to determine if your order of rankings was correct but struggled with whether any re-sorting should be done in response to viability OR preference. Regarding Williamson, what isn’t a cult (UCLA groupies, the Catholic Church, political parties, etc.)?! It’s ALL a cult…some better than others. She has an important message: a politics of love (rather than hate).

  4. If there were a way to combine the personality cult of Beto, the grass-roots appeal of Buttigieg, the substance of Warren, and the experience/resume of Biden, I’d be all over it. That said, Todd, I think a future post has to be “Fantasy Casting for Demo Candidate Biopics That May/May Not Ever Be Made.” I’ll throw out two: Biden: Jeff Bridges. Buttigieg: Norm McDonald.

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