- We don't know who will win. Candidates may think that they can.
- If it goes to the convention with no one having a clear lead, the leader probably won't win. The leader generally has to consolidate the lead within the first couple ballots to win.
- If it goes to the convention and someone has some measure of control over some number of delegates, that person may be able to parlay that into platform changes or a promise of an administration position.
- What else are they supposed to do now? John Delaney has been running for several years. He gave up his House seat to do so. If he dropped out, what would he do instead?
- There has only been one round of debates. In that round, Kamala Harris and Julian Castro had breakout moments. Harris went from a clear second tier candidate to first tier (on average, she is fourth in polls now). Castro went from also ran to contender. Other candidates may be hoping for the same result.
- The also ran candidates are more qualified than the leading candidates.
- Losing candidates sometimes attract attention as a result. Bernie Sanders in 2016 is an example.
Real Clear Politics polling average.
Candidates on Wikipedia.
The primary qualification for being president is chief executive experience. What's that mean? Primarily governor.
Three candidates are or have been governors: Jay Inslee; John Hickenlooper; Steve Bullock. Inslee is a former member of Congress as well. Polling-wise, these are all in no-hope land. They also have lousy fundraising. But they have the most experience.
Six candidates have been or are mayors: Bill de Blasio; Julian Castro; Cory Booker; Bernie Sanders; Pete Buttigieg; Wayne Messam (also John Hickenlooper, but governor trumps mayor). While I personally wouldn't vote for de Blasio for dogcatcher, he's mayor of the largest city in the United States and that city has more population than Montana (Steve Bullock's state). Castro was mayor of San Antonio and has federal experience from the Obama administration. Booker and Sanders are currently Senators. Sanders is the only one who would be considered a serious contender at the moment. Buttigieg, Booker, and Castro are still possibilities though.
Joe Biden was vice president and Senator before that. There is quite a history of vice presidents becoming president, although they often have troubles as president. Consider George H. W. Bush (single term) and Richard Nixon (resigned before being impeached). Not comparing to Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman, or Calvin Coolidge, as they all ascended to the presidency before being elected to it. Leads in the polls, although not as much as he was.
One candidate, Joe Sestak, has been an admiral. He also has legislative experience as a member of Congress. He wasn't a high ranking admiral, so I'm not sure that he belongs this high. But military success has led to political success for people like Dwight Eisenhower, Ulysses Grant, Andrew Jackson, and George Washington. Of course, Joe Sestak doesn't have that kind of success in his background.
Six candidates who were not governors or mayors are or have been Senators: Kamala Harris; Elizabeth Warren; Amy Klobuchar; Michael Bennett; Kirsten Gillibrand; Mike Gravel. There is precedent for Senators becoming president without executive experience, e.g. John F. Kennedy. There is also considerable precedent for losing presidential candidates with Senate experience to become vice president, e.g. Joe Biden. Warren is currently second in the polls and Harris is fourth. Klobuchar is an also ran.
Five candidates not previously mentioned are or have been Representatives: Beto O'Rourke; Tulsi Gabbard; Tim Ryan; John Delaney; Seth Moulton. Eric Swalwell already dropped out. Representatives haven't had much luck in the presidency. The two successes of whom I can think were both assassinated: Abraham Lincoln; James Garfield. O'Rourke is the most serious contender. Gabbard, Ryan, and Delaney may be hoping to influence the platform. Gabbard has a distinct foreign policy. Ryan and Delaney are known as moderates. And of course, Delaney is committed.
Three candidates have no qualifications whatsoever: Andrew Yang; Tom Steyer; Marianne Williamson. Yang is a single issue candidate who favors a basic income payment. Steyer is passionate about environmental issues. Williamson may simply feel that no other candidate has her approach. All three are rich. Perhaps Donald Trump's win has convinced them that anyone can win.
So who are the no-hope candidates? Twenty can expect to make the second round of debates. So the true no hopers are the ones who won't even make that. At the moment, that is Messam, Steyer, Bennet, and possibly people like Gillibrand, Ryan, de Blasio, Hickenlooper, and Bullock. But as I already said, de Blasio, Hickenlooper, and Bullock are three of the most qualified in terms of preparatory experience.
Another thing is that candidates may simply not believe that they have no hope. Hickenlooper looks around and sees all these less qualified people running. Is it any surprise that he continues to hope for a break out moment where people realize that he is more qualified than the majority of the field? Same thing for Inslee.
Bullock, de Blasio, Sestak, and Steyer entered the race late. They may think that they just need more time.
Sanders' campaign is in trouble. When Biden entered the race, he dropped back a little. He dropped back more after the first debate. Since he's not actually a Democrat, he is unpopular with the kind of people who become delegates and super delegates. He really needs to win at least 45% of the vote and preferably 50%. But he's back around 15%. Even if other candidates drop out, it's not clear that he benefits. Certainly if Biden or Warren dropped out, but they're the two leaders at the moment. So that's unlikely.
Sanders can claim to be one of the two candidates (along with Biden) whose turn it is. So Sanders is unlikely to drop out. Even though other candidates may have better stories (Castro is the only latinx candidate; Booker and Messam are the only black candidates; Harris is the only multi-racial candidate). Sanders' minority (he's Jewish) does not draw a lot of sympathy. He looks white, not a person of color. And his positions against Israel mean that most other Jews won't vote for him. He's not female or gay. His positions were distinctive in 2016, but in 2020, Warren is the one who's getting credit for leftist policies. Meanwhile, other candidates are just as far left.
Now, you may agree with Sanders that he shouldn't drop out. My point isn't that he should drop out immediately. There's still time for a recovery. But that's also true of other candidates without his negatives (along with de Blasio and Gabbard, he's one of the only candidates whose disapproval among party activists is over 50%). If Biden stumbles again, moderates like Hickenlooper, Bullock, Ryan, and Delaney may hope that they'll benefit.
There are a lot of candidates, but there aren't a lot of qualified candidates. Several of the more qualified candidates sat out this time. Martin O'Malley and Lincoln Chafee are as qualified as anyone running. Chafee was both a governor and a Senator. O'Malley was a governor of a larger state. Andrew Cuomo and Deval Patrick are more qualified than anyone actually running. Cuomo is currently governor of the fourth largest state (New York). Patrick was governor of Massachusetts and would be the only black governor running. Michael Bloomberg has the same qualification as de Blasio.
Of course, Cuomo, O'Malley, and Bloomberg might still get included if there is a contested convention. It was reasonably common for someone not running to get the nomination if no one succeeded in getting a majority in the first few ballots. Once it becomes clear that no one wants to rally around any of the existing candidates, people start expanding their search. Patrick has been pretty definite about not running. Chafee is a former Republican.
Candidates also may not have much choice. Castro, O'Rourke, and Buttigieg are all from red states. It's unlikely they could win statewide (O'Rourke already failed in a great Democratic year against a vulnerable Republican). Bullock is term-limited.
I expect more candidates to follow Swalwell in resigning after the next debate. And still more after the third debate round.