Senator Bernie Sanders.
Senator Bernie Sanders.

There are so many prospective 2020 Democratic presidential candidates that you need a scorecard to keep track.

With the first presidential primary more than a year away, it would be grossly premature to try to single out a favourite now.

But it's not too soon to divide the potential candidates into brackets, as for a college basketball tournament, anticipating a contest that winnows down the contenders first within their lanes and then between them.


1) The Insider Bracket

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In one category are established officeholders led by former Vice-President Joe Biden.

Experienced, knowledgeable, honest and respected across the political divide, Biden's blue-collar roots and blunt-spoken persona make his fans think of him as the perfect foil to US President Donald Trump. He has a deep network of able political operatives and fundraisers. He's also 76, notoriously gaffe-prone, and has twice flamed out on the presidential stump.

Michael Bloomberg, the former Mayor of New York and owner of Bloomberg LP, spent some US$80 million to help elect a Democratic House this November. He was a successful three-term mayor, but the ex-Republican faces resistance from party liberals and isn't a gifted retail politician, a premium in the first two nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Terry McAuliffe, former Governor of Virginia and national party chair, would bring political charm and is a favourite of Bill and Hillary Clinton, a mixed blessing.

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is a liberal who has been in Congress for more than a quarter of a century and in elective office since 1974. He could win in purple-red Ohio, but may lack the ambition needed to endure what is sure to be a punishing race.

If Biden runs, which is far from a certainty, he would begin as the favourite in this lane.

Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Senator Elizabeth Warren.

2) The Liberal Bracket

Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts are favourites of the party's robust left wing. Sanders built up a core of committed supporters in his unsuccessful nomination challenge to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Warren has the potential for a wider appeal.

Others in this group might include Tom Steyer, a hedge-fund billionaire turned liberal philanthropist, who has thrilled some activists with his drive to impeach Trump. He has never held or run for political office.

More impressive is Congressman Beto O'Rourke of Texas, who appeared more liberal than he really is by running a strong challenge this year against the right-wing candidacy of Republican Senator Ted Cruz. O'Rourke excites young voters who see him as an eloquent, optimistic second coming of Barack Obama 12 years ago. That's a nice thought, but it's also a reach.

Put early money in this bracket on Warren.

Congressman Beto O'Rourke.
Congressman Beto O'Rourke.

3) The Diversity Bracket

Two newbie African-American senators, Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, have also invited comparisons to Obama. Both appear to be readying a run.

Others in this lane include the former US Housing Secretary and Mayor of San Antonio, Texas, Julian Castro, and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Harris has the most upside potential.

Senator Kamala Harris.
Senator Kamala Harris.

4) The Outsider Bracket

This lane features a couple of governors, Steve Bullock of Montana and John Hickenlooper of Colorado, and two mayors, Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles and Mitch Landrieu, who presided in New Orleans from 2010 until May this year.

Given the anti-Washington sentiments of many voters and a history of Democrats winning when they turn to outsiders, if one of these candidates takes off early he could walk in the path blazed in 1976 by Jimmy Carter, who rose to the White House from near-obscurity as a little-known Governor of Georgia on the strength of early victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

I like the chances of Landrieu, a good retail politician who has appeal to African-Americans, a voting bloc that's especially critical in the early South Carolina primary, and also appeals to business-oriented Democrats.

In a final four of bracket winners, almost anything could happen.

Party power brokers will have less say than ever before after Democrats foolishly downgraded the nominating role of elected officials.

So it's hard to predict any outcome, but here's one possible new wrinkle.

Electability rarely has been a voting issue for Democrats, but this time - more than ideology, age or geography - an edge may go to the candidate seen as best able to end the Trump nightmare.

- Bloomberg

Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Senator Cory Booker.
Senator Cory Booker.