The 2020 Democratic primary battle is starting to sort out as a struggle between change agents and restorationists. For now, the restoration wing of the Democratic Party, fronted by Joe Biden, has a lead.
The former vice president, promising a reset from Trump (but offering little in the way of policy specifics), has surged to a nearly 20 point advantage, nationally. That is impressive. Full stop. But Biden is also maxing out below 40 percent support in the polls, despite near-universal name recognition.
This low ceiling should give the change agents in the race hope. These candidates, led by a surging Elizabeth Warren, believe it’s not enough to fall back from the Trump misadventure. They seek, instead, to press forward with a transformative vision for the future. “The time for small ideas is over,” Warren told California activists in early June, before taking a not-so-subtle swing at Biden: “When a candidate tells you about all the things that aren’t possible … they’re telling you that they will not fight for you.”
Will primary voters pick sides in this conflict? Or will they reward candidates, like Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg, who are trying to pitch Democrats on a synthesis: electability and change.
As the battle lines are drawn in advance of the first debate in late June, the Rolling Stone leaderboard is tracking the 20 candidates who will participate, three more who will not, plus a wild-card (Stacey Abrams) and a chaos agent — former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel.
1) Joe Biden
Lord knows Biden has baggage — and if the flap over his past chumminess with segregationists is any indication, it has potential to bog him down. The former Vice President offers America a seductive promise — a reboot from the Trump catastrophe. And rather than risk falling in love with a progressive New Hope, many rank-and-file Democrats, particularly older voters, seem more than happy to fall in line behind Biden. At his Philadelphia kickoff rally in May, Biden touted his record as a Mr. Fixit: “I know how to make government work.”
Signature Policy: Biden has peerless foreign policy credentials and isn’t afraid to tout them: “I’m the most qualified person in the country to be president,” he’s said. “I know as much about American foreign policy [as] anyone around, including even maybe Kissinger.”
Signature Apology: “I’m sorry I didn’t understand more,” Biden told reporters after being rebuked by multiple women for his space-invader style of politics. “I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I’m not sorry for anything that I have ever done. I have never been disrespectful intentionally to a man or a woman. So that’s not the reputation I’ve had since I was in high school, for God’s sakes.”
2) Elizabeth Warren
Warren continues to rise by outpacing her competitors on policy, recently calling to wipe out student debt for tens of millions of Americans. The Massachusetts senator is targeting Democrats who seek progressive purity from their 2020 champion. (She recently rejected a town hall invitation from Fox News, calling the network “a hate-for-profit racket… designed to turn us against each other.”) But unlike Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders, the 69-year-old Warren is a capitalist at heart, having spent a career trying to make the system work for working people. Prior to becoming a senator, Warren launched the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And before that, as a law professor, she sparred with then Senator Joe Biden about the 2005 bankruptcy bill he backed, which Warren argued favored special interests. “At a time when the biggest financial institutions in this country were trying to put the squeeze on millions of hardworking families,” Warren said recently. “Joe Biden was on the side of the credit card companies.”
Signature Policy: Warren wants to address American inequality with a wealth tax, imposed annually on “ultra-millionaires,” to pay for benefits, including universal free or low-cost childcare, for “yacht-less Americans.” Fortunes greater than $50 million would be taxed at 2 percent. Billionaires would pay 3 percent. The proposal has greater than 60 percent support and would raise $2.75 trillion over 10 years.
Signature Apology: Warren has apologized for conflating “family stories” about Cherokee heritage with native identity. “I am sorry,” Warren said, “for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted.”
3) Bernie Sanders
That Sanders has slipped to third place reflects Warren’s strength, not his weakness. He remains a force thanks to a potent combination of people-power and cash. His campaign raised $18 million from more than 500,000 donors in the opening months. And the campaign’s focus on grassroots organizing is peerless in the 2020 field. Sanders does not have the left lane to himself anymore — many candidates have embraced his once-distinctive proposals. But he is seen as an uncompromising champion of policies like Medicare for All.
Signature Policy: Sanders’ 2016 campaign set the table for 2020. He gets full credit for mainstreaming a $15 minimum wage and tuition-free college. Sanders recently introduced the “For the 99.8% Act” that would sharply increase the estate tax, including imposing a 77 percent tax on estates in excess of $1 billion, raising an estimated $315 billion over a decade.
Signature Apology: Sanders apologized to former female staffers for a 2016 campaign marred by pay disparities and allegations of sexual harassment by male staffers, promising to “do better” moving forward.
4) Kamala Harris
Harris — the 54-year-old former prosecutor — continues to show star power: Her town hall on MSNBC in late May drew 2.2 million viewers. And if the way she dismantled Attorney General Bill Barr in hearings about the Mueller report is any indication, Harris will be a force on the debate stage. The Californian stands astride the tectonic plates of the Democratic Party — an establishment politician who has adopted a platform responsive to the passion of the grassroots, including a Green New Deal and marijuana legalization. Her fundraising in the first quarter reflects success in sustaining this tricky balance: Harris raised $12 million from nearly 140,000 donors. Black women are the heart of the Democratic Party, and seeing themselves reflected in the Howard University-educated Harris (born to Jamaican and Tamil Indian parents) could boost her prospects in an early-vote state like South Carolina. (For now, however, Harris is only polling in the the single digits in the Palmetto State, while Biden’s support is in the high thirties.)
Signature Policy: Harris has promised executive action to punish pay disparities. She would require companies to receive an “Equal Pay Certification” and fine one percent of corporate profits for every percent of wage gap that persists between male and female employees.
Signature Apology: Harris has accepted accountability for missteps as California’s attorney general: “The bottom line is the buck stops with me, and I take full responsibility for what my office did.”
5) Pete Buttigieg
The 37-year-old mayor vaulted from dark-horse to phenom in a matter of months, but has lately plateaued. Buttigieg was recently featured in a photo-shoot in Vogue, and (with his husband Chasten) scored the cover of Time. Plainspoken and steeped in the values of the Christian left, Buttigieg has wowed pundits and prospective voters alike — whether speaking sign language, pontificating on Ulysses or officiating last minute nuptials for two supporters expecting a baby. Is “Mayor Pete” a true contender? His fundraising suggests he’ll have staying power: Buttigieg has already raised $7 million from nearly 160,000 donors. We only wish he were as quick to understand the traumas of black America as he was to learn Norwegian. Indeed, his lack of resonance with African American voters could be his undoing. In a recent South Carolina poll, Mayor Pete ranked second among white voters at 18 percent, but got 0 percent of the black vote.
Signature Policy: “The electoral college needs to go.”
Signature Apology: After news reports revealed that Buttigieg declared “all lives matter” in 2015, Mayor Pete distanced himself from the comment, insisting he “did not understand” at the time that the slogan was “being used to devalue what the Black Lives Matter movement was telling us.”
6) Cory Booker
The former super-mayor of Newark, Booker is running on a values-heavy message of love, unity and “a revival of civic grace.” The 50-year-old has one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate, and he’s changed the conversation around federal cannabis legalization with his proposed Marijuana Justice Act. “I get angry when I see people taking just one step — legalizing marijuana — without doing anything to address past harms,” he told Rolling Stone in a recent interview. Booker has also demonstrated his policy chops by unveiling an ambitious affordable housing plan that would provide tax credits to renters, increase housing investments in rural America, and push localities to reform their zoning laws that stand in the way of building more affordable housing units. But his outward liberalism has been undercut at times by problematic connections to Wall Street and Big Pharma. He vowed to not accept corporate PAC or lobbyist donations, and announced raising more than $5 million in the opening months of his campaign.
Signature Policy: Baby bonds. Booker would target the wealth gap in America by seeding “American Opportunity Accounts” for children that would allow kids from the poorest families to enter adulthood with a nest egg of up to $46,000 to invest in education, home ownership or retirement.
Signature Apology: Booker has disavowed the tough-on-crime approach he championed in his early days as Newark mayor. In his book United, Booker credits his then-chief of staff for delivering a wake-up call on racial disparities in policing: “He told me that if I had so quickly forgotten my own life experiences, I had my head up my large black posterior region.”
7) Beto O’Rourke
After firing up the nationwide political machine that helped him nearly topple Texas mega-villain Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, O’Rourke has the cash to compete for the Democratic nomination. He’s raised $9.4 million, on the strength of 280,000 contributions. But after basking in the limelight like a political rock star during his Senate bid, Beto has struggled to gain traction on the presidential stage — and was the first candidate to attempt a reboot. During a mid-May media blitz designed to reintroduce himself to America, Beto expressed regret for the Vanity Fair cover timed to his initial launch, calling it an expression of his “privilege.” He insisted that the seemingly boastful coverline, “Man, I’m just born to be in it,” was just a clumsy attempt “to say that I felt that my calling was in public service. No one is born to be president of the United States of America,” he told The View, “least of all me.”
Signature Policy: O’Rourke, until this year a representative for El Paso, has centered on immigration reform, based on “respect and dignity.”
Signature Apology: Beto was arrested for drunk-driving at 26, which he’s called a “terrible mistake.”
8) Amy Klobuchar
The Minnesota senator’s unruffled persona stands in contrast to Trump’s bluster and bravado, winning her plaudits from conservatives including Washington Post columnist George Will and Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins. Klobuchar, 58, raised a respectable $5 million in the first quarter. In theory, Klobuchar should benefit from a near-home-field advantage in neighboring Iowa, which holds the first-in-the-nation caucus. But the latest Des Moines Register poll has her bumping along at 2 percent support.
Signature Policy: Known for playing small-ball, Klobuchar has emphasized her record of enacting practical laws that have reduced the backlog of rape kits and banned lead in toys. Unwilling to promise the moon on health care or tuition breaks, Klobuchar has gone all-in on statehood for Washington, D.C., promising it would be part of her first-100-days agenda.
Signature Apology: Klobuchar has been dogged by reports she abused and demeaned staff, including by throwing a binder that “accidentally” hit a staffer. The senator has admitted she has pushed employees “too hard” at times and can be a “tough boss,” but added she just wants to hold her employees — and the country — to high standards.
9) Andrew Yang
The most unlikely grassroots sensation of 2020, Yang is a businessman who founded Venture for America, working to revitalize struggling urban centers by training and fostering entrepreneurs in cities like Detroit and New Orleans. Yang’s campaign announced it raised $1.7 million in the first quarter, as his campaign has become a hit among meme-warrior members of the #YangGang. His appearance on Joe Rogan’s YouTube show drew more than 2.6 million views, and some troubling new fans in the alt-right.
Signature Policy: The 44-year-old is running on a platform of a universal basic income, to counteract the worst effects of automation in the workforce. Yang spoke at length to Rolling Stone about his “Freedom Dividend,” insisting: “You want to universalize it so it’s seen as a true right of citizenship.”
10) Jay Inslee
Inslee launched his campaign on March 1st at a Seattle solar-energy factory, vowing to be the first climate president. “This has to be the number-one priority of the United States,” he told Rolling Stone. “I think too many other candidates are going to say, ‘I’m for the Green New Deal, and now I’m done.’ That just doesn’t cut it.” True to his word, Inslee is leading the pack of 2020 contenders with ambitious, detailed climate policy proposals. In mid-May, Inslee unveiled his Evergreen Economy Plan, which calls for $3 trillion in federal spending to “defeat climate change” and create 8 million jobs. Inslee has also led the charge to pressure the DNC to host an official climate-specific debate — a demand the committee has so far refused.
Signature Policy: Fighting climate change. Inslee’s track record includes creating a $120 million clean-energy fund, directing his state government to set new caps on emissions (now being challenged in court) and launching the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan group of 22 governors implementing the Paris climate accord.
11) Julián Castro
The former Housing and Urban Development secretary — and a short-lister for Hillary’s 2016 veep — announced his 2020 candidacy in his hometown of San Antonio in January. The only Latino contender in the field, Castro, 44, is one of the youngest. He was the first Democrat to visit Puerto Rico as a candidate, and has committed to visit all 50 states during the primaries. Castro’s “People First” policy agenda is earning high marks for outlining the first sweeping immigration plan of the 2020 primary to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; an education overhaul that would reinvest in public education from pre-K through college; and a $5-billion plan to “eliminate lead poisoning as a major public health threat.” He qualified for a podium on the debate stage under the party’s two-track metrics of poll numbers and grassroots donor support.
Signature Policy: Pre-K for USA, nationwide universal pre-kindergarten programs, are the centerpiece of his People First education plan. “Investing in early childhood education isn’t just the right thing to do on behalf of our children,” Castro says. “It’s an investment that we can’t afford not to make.”
Signature Apology: In 2016, Castro apologized for dissing Trump and talking up Clinton while on the job as HUD secretary, a violation of the Hatch Act. “When an error is made — even an inadvertent one — the error should be acknowledged,” Castro said. “I made one here.”
12) Tulsi Gabbard
An Iraq war vet, 37, Gabbard is the first Hindu to serve in the House of Representatives. Gabbard has introduced a bipartisan bill with Rep. Don Young (R-AK) to legalize marijuana, and she has begun to register in the low single digits in some 2020 polls and looks like a lock for the debate stage. Gabbard also continues to ruffle feathers within her own party. After Attorney General William Barr released his controversial, four-page summary of the Mueller report, Gabbard said that it was time to “put aside partisan interests” and “move forward.” The Hawaiian congresswoman was recently praised as the “by far the very, very best” of the Democratic field by Ron Paul, the former Republican gadfly presidential candidate.
Signature Policy: Appealing to dovish Democrats, Gabbard has staked her campaign in opposition to wars of regime change. But her foreign policy credentials are worrying: She visited Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in 2017 on a secret “fact-finding” mission and dismissed his opposition — across the board — as terrorists. (Gabbard’s rollout also received an unsettling signal boost from Kremlin-backed English language media networks, RT and Sputnik.)
Signature Apology: Into adulthood, Gabbard espoused virulently anti-LGBTQ views. She released an apology video saying, “In my past, I said and believed things that were wrong.”
13) Kirsten Gillibrand
Gillibrand has framed 2020 as a contest between bravery and fear, and herself as the Democrats’ own Fearless Girl™ (complete with Wall Street funding). An attempt to bait the president by holding her kickoff outside Trump Tower didn’t pay off. But Gillibrand is distinguishing herself as the first candidate to speak up when it comes to the issues most important to women. Gillibrand has called for codifying Roe, and repealing the Hyde Amendment, promised to appoint only pro-choice judges and to protect women’s health care. Gillibrand has finally built a grassroots donor base that will assure her of a spot on the debate stage.
Signature Policy: Gillibrand is a champion of the #MeToo movement, calling out former president Bill Clinton and pushing for Al Franken to resign from the Senate. Weighing in on the Biden controversy, Gillibrand said of his accusers: “These individuals feel demeaned, and that’s not OK.” She added: “It’s an issue he’s going to have to address directly with voters.”
Signature Apology: Gillibrand began her 2020 bid with frank apologies for her anti-immigrant past as a Blue Dog Democrat representing Upstate New York: “I was callous to the suffering of families who want to be with their loved ones,” she told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. “Looking back, I just really regretted that I didn’t look beyond my district.”
14) Marianne Williamson
Oprah Winfrey may sit out the 2020 fracas, but one of her favorite self-help gurus jumped in feet first in late-January, arguing that the United States is in dire need of a “moral and spiritual awakening.” Williamson, 66, has limited political experience: She finished fourth in a congressional primary in California in 2014. But she says she’s pursuing the presidency on a track record of helping transform “moral dysfunction.” Williamson may be running for the White House as a PR stunt, but it’s working. She’s qualified for the debate stage both with her poll numbers and meeting the 65,000 donor threshold.
Signature Policy: Called for $100 billion in reparations for black people, distributed over 10 years. (Scholars have estimated a fair value for reparations at between $6 and $14 trillion.)
Signature Apology: In her Prayer of Apology to African Americans, the bestselling author apologizes for slavery, lynchings, white supremacist laws, the denial of voting rights, the denial of civil rights, unequal treatment of Black Americans in the criminal justice system, police brutality, economic injustice and more, asking God for forgiveness. “May the screams that were not allowed, be allowed now./May the cries that were never heard be heard now./May the tears that were never heard be heard now./And may the healing begin./In this sacred container, may the healing begin./May the Light of love now heal us all./Amen.”
15) John Delaney
The former Maryland Congressman, 55, has been running for president since July 2017. Delaney preaches a relentlessly bipartisan message of national unity. One thing that won’t slow him down is funding: Delaney is worth close to $100 million. An entrepreneur in high finance, he launched two companies that trade on the New York Stock Exchange. Not surprisingly then, Delaney is a capitalist. “The primary is going to be a choice between socialism and a more just form of capitalism,” he said in late-February. “I believe in capitalism, the free markets and the private economy.” Delaney’s centrist principles also apply to healthcare. In June, he was booed at a Democratic event for describing Medicare-for-All as “not good policy.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) suggested he “sashay away” from the primary.
Signature Policy: Delaney is promoting a national youth service program to bring the country together.
16) Tim Ryan
A nine-term congressman, Ryan represents post-industrial Youngstown, Ohio, and wants Democrats to compete for the disaffected voters who turned to Trump in 2016. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Ryan, 45, lamented that Democrats had “not done anywhere close to what we need to do for rural America. I think we need an absolute, aggressive campaign in rural America, because I think we can win those voters back.” Ryan has begun to register in national polls. But his campaign to deny Nancy Pelosi the Speaker’s gavel in 2018 speaks against his political instincts, and some Democratic primary voters won’t easily forgive him for it.
Signature Policy: The centerpiece of Ryan’s candidacy is a long-term industrial strategy to make the U.S. competitive with China in industries like automotive, solar, wind and clean manufacturing.
17) John Hickenlooper
Colorado’s former governor, 67, left office in January having created 400,000 jobs over two terms, with unemployment dropping below 3 percent in 2018. The state currently boasts the number-one economy in the nation, thanks in part to a fracking boom, and Hickenlooper markets himself as a centrist who can bring opposing interests to the table. “I am who I am,” Hickenlooper recently told Rolling Stone. “True to that north star.” Despite a tepid media response to his March 4th announcement, his bridge-building approach seems to be resonating with donors: Hickenlooper’s campaign says it raised over $1 million within 48 hours of his candidacy declaration.
Signature Policy: In the wake of the 2012 Aurora theater shooting that left 12 dead and dozens injured, Hickenlooper’s state government passed background checks and magazine capacity limits.
Signature Apology: In 2014, Hickenlooper apologized to local sheriffs for not consulting them before pushing a gun-control measure, but didn’t take well to being pressed further on the issue by one officer at a public forum. “How many apologies do you want? What the fuck?,” the governor said. “I apologize!”
18) Bill de Blasio
The mayor of New York since 2014, de Blasio announced his 2020 campaign on May 16th and has begun to register in low single digits in several national polls. If hizzoner has got his sights set on Washington, de Blasio has got problems closer to home. His approval rating in New York is hovering in the low-40s and unlikely to improve following a failed attempt to bring an Amazon campus to Queens. A Quinnipiac poll released in early April found that 76 percent of New York City voters don’t think he should run for the White House.
Signature Policy: Implemented universal pre-K in New York City.
Signature Apology: In November, de Blasio apologized for botching a memorial service for the victims of a 2017 terrorist attack on Manhattan’s West Side Highway. Not only was the ceremony hastily organized, the names of the victims were not mentioned. “It was not handled right,” de Blasio said.
19) Steve Bullock
The Montana governor with a Deadwood-worthy name could be a 2020 dark horse, but he’s having trouble out of the gates. He entered the race in May and did not qualify for the first debate. Still, his experience stands out. He won statewide office in a state Trump carried by 20 points — and then got a GOP-majority legislature to agree to expand Medicaid.
Signature Policy: The 52-year-old has focused on ending the influence of unlimited political contributions and dark money. “If we wanna address all the other big issues,” he said in a stump speech in Iowa, “you’re not gonna be able to do it unless you also address the way money is affecting our system.”
Signature Apology: A former Bullock aide, fired for sexual harassment, went on to harass again in the office of the mayor of New York City. “I should have done more to ensure future employers would learn of his behavior,” Bullock wrote in February. “These realizations come too late for the two women in New York City. For that, I’m deeply sorry.”
20) Michael Bennet
The 54-year-old senator, who put his presidential launch on hold for prostate cancer surgery, announced his bid officially on May 2nd, calling for a return to integrity in government and a revival of American economic mobility. A former chief of staff to then-Denver mayor Hickenlooper, Bennet positions himself as “pragmatic idealist” and has been calling for Democrats to temper ideas like packing the Supreme Court. He has been lauded by “Morning” Joe Scarborough for combining “an Ivy League pedigree” with “a common touch” and for his “commitment to key centrist fiscal policies.”
Signature Policy: Medicare X. With Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Bennet is proposing legislation to create, and slowly roll out, a public option for the Obamacare state marketplaces, with the same doctor and hospital networks as Medicare, and similar reimbursement rates. (Bennet has called Medicare-for-All, which would disrupt existing health care plans for millions, “a bad opening offer.”)
21) Eric Swalwell
The California congressman, 38, is a member of House leadership and the House Intelligence Committee, and has a knack for keeping himself in the news. After months of flirtation with a run, Swalwell officially launched his presidential bid in an April 8th appearance on The Late Show with Sephen Colbert.
Signature Policy: Swalwell is centering his early campaign on gun control and taking the fight to the NRA: “I’m the only candidate calling for a mandatory national ban and buyback of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons.”
Signature Apology: After a newspaper unearthed a high school yearbook headshot of the future congressman sporting a frosted buzz cut, Swalwell tweeted: “All of us make bad decisions in high school. Sometimes those decisions involve bleach.”
22) Seth Moulton
Moulton, 40, is a former Marine captain who served four tours in Iraq. He has made his experience in war a centerpiece of his campaign. Moulton has been frank about his struggles with PTSD, stemming from bearing witness to civilian casualties: “My story is one of success because I got help for it,” he’s said. “I decided to talk to someone, to see a therapist.” Moulton has also used his first-hand foreign policy experience to challenge his “mentor” Joe Biden, telling CNN: “I do think that it’s time for the generation that fought in Iraq and Afghanistan to step in for the generation that sent us there.” Moulton is one of just three candidates who did not qualify for the first debate.
Signature Policy: “Democrats should be the party of national defense,” Moulton has told Rolling Stone. “We have a commander in chief who is reckless. We need a smart, strong national security strategy,” he said. “We do that by having credible voices in the party who can speak on matters of national security because they’ve been out there on the ground themselves.”
Signature Apology: Moulton has not apologized for his role in attempting to deny Pelosi the Speaker’s gavel, but concedes that she’s done a “good job” since resuming the post.
23) Wayne Messam
The mayor of fast-growing Miramar, Florida, Messam has a low national profile. But the 44-year-old was recently elected to a third term in the Miami suburb (with more residents than South Bend, Indiana) and the former football standout has set his sights on Washington. His cash-strapped campaign reportedly missed payroll in April and lost key staff. He did not qualify for the first primary debate.
Signature Policy: Messam has called for statehood for Puerto Rico, and was the first Democrat to call for cancelling all student debt. “It’s interesting to see other candidates now beginning to start to put out a proposal,” Messam said in West Des Moines, referencing Warren’s debt-relief plan.
Wild Card: Stacey Abrams
We respect Abrams for taking her time to weigh a run for president. She approaches the subject with disarming honesty: “I don’t know whether this is the moment for me,” she told Rolling Stone‘s Jamil Smith in March. Abrams would be vying for a spot in the top ten if she declared, but with the first debate looming, we’ve decided to re-open a Wild Card category on her behalf. Abrams has said she feels a responsibility, as a black woman expanding the scope of “where we get to stand,” to give a White House bid true consideration, and that regional representation matters: “I’m Southern. I want people to think about folks from the South, especially black women in the South, being part of this national narrative.”
Signature Policy: Abrams has dedicated her post-election life to registering voters and educating them about their rights. Her newly launched Fair Fight Action has battled Georgia’s efforts to purchase voting machines that critics believe will be more vulnerable to hackers.
Signature (Non)Apology: Abrams burned Georgia’s state flag, which then incorporated the Confederate battle flag, at a protest in 1992. She’s not sorry.
Chaos Agent: Mike Gravel
Political observers weren’t sure if former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel was serious, joking or hacked when his long-dormant Twitter account sputtered to life late one March night with a “#Gravel2020” tweet. It turned out to be a little bit of all three: A trio of teenagers from New York state had convinced the anti-war octogenarian, famous for making the Pentagon papers public, to mount a protest bid for the Democratic nomination. David Oks and Elijah Emery, high school seniors in Dobbs Ferry, New York, and Henry Williams, a freshman at Columbia University, initially just wanted to get Gravel on the debate stage to push the other candidates in a more progressive direction. It’s unclear whether or not they’ll achieve their goal, but that hasn’t stopped the teens from mercilessly roasting the rest of the field on Twitter. For his part, Gravel approves of the shitposting, he’s just asked that the teens refrain from using curse words.
Signature Policy: According to the teens, the chief animating issue of Gravel 2020 is a bold promise to “end all wars.” According to Gravel himself, the reason he agreed to run was to advance awareness about his passion for direct democracy. Gravel is writing a book that lays out an argument for a “Legislature of the People” that would empower individual citizens to make and vote on laws. (Gravel believes such a system could be implemented via a Constitutional amendment.)
Signature apology: In May, Gravel dismissed fellow 2020 candidate Buttigieg, saying he “really doesn’t say anything more than the fact that he’s gay, and that energizes the gay community.” In a statement posted to Twitter the next day, Gravel apologized, voicing support for “queer liberty,” while nonetheless ramping up his attacks on Mayor Pete, blasting Buttigieg’s decision to work for the consulting firm McKinsey, declaring: “A Buttigieg presidency unequivocally threatens the well-being of people the world over who are subject to America’s imperialist whims. He supports drone strikes, concealing war crimes, and growing our military-industrial complex. There is simply too much life at stake to entertain the deadly ambitions of this McKinsey cypher.”
Love our rankings? Disagree with a passion? Tell us what we got right — or wrong — on Twitter: @RSPolitics. This leaderboard is updated regularly.