Jamie Kim / Gavel Media

2020 Candidates Spotlight Kickoff

The Iowa caucuses are just a little under a year away. As 2019 rolls around, potential candidates eyeing the Oval Office and the political machines behind them are gearing up for the big day—Nov. 3, 2020, which is less than 600 days away. The 2020 election will be an interesting one, characterized by an unusually open playing field and a large number of challengers within the Democratic party.

So, who are the major players that have already emerged, and where do they stand?

A number of potential powerhouse candidates including U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, have yet to definitively declare their intentions to join the race. However, more than 450 candidates have already registered with the Federal Election Commission to run. Here are some of the most notable among them to kick off The Gavel's weekly spotlight on the 2020 presidential candidates.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Cory Booker

On the first day of Black History month, the first African-American senator from New Jersey released a video on his website announcing his campaign for the presidency. “I grew up knowing that the only way we can make change is when people come together,” Booker emphasized.

A New Jersey native, Booker finished his undergraduate studies at Stanford, followed by a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford, eventually earning his law degree from Yale Law School. After graduating, he moved to Newark, NJ, where he won an upset victory for a seat in the city council at age 29. He went on to become mayor in 2006; his two terms saw the doubling of affordable housing under development and a $100 million reduction of the city budget deficit. He won a special election to the U.S. Senate in 2013, and a full six-year term the following year. In Congress, Booker has held positions on the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees. His voting record has been measured among one of the most liberal in the Senate, as he routinely sponsors acts that support women's rights, affirmative action, same-sex marriage, and single-payer healthcare.

After addressing the Democratic National Convention in 2016, Booker garnered wider recognition for his participation in the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. However, his remarks at the hearing and some of his previous statements regarding President Trump have been unfavorably received as being "overly theatrical and sensationalist." Such backlash, combined with concerns over connections to his “super PAC” donors, might cause some trouble for Booker in the Democratic Party primaries.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Kamala Harris

The first Californian senator of Jamaican or Indian ancestry, Harris announced her campaign on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “This is a moment in time that I feel a sense of responsibility to stand up and fight for the best of who we are,” she said during an appearance on Good Morning America.

A native of Oakland, California, Harris studied political science and economics at Howard University and earned a law degree from University of California Hastings College of the Law. Before being elected California’s Attorney General in 2010, she served as a deputy district attorney and then as District Attorney of San Francisco. In 2016, Harris won an easy Senate race against fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez and secured a seat on the influential Senate Judiciary Committee. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Harris garnered national recognition for her part in the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.

Despite her relatively short tenure in the Senate, Harris has established a progressive platform that emphasizes Medicare-for-all, criminal justice reform, legalization of recreational marijuana, sanctuary cities, and lower taxes for the working and middle classes while raising taxes on the 1%. However, her background as a prosecutor has also garnered some criticisms within the criminal justice community and progressives, who believe her actions as California’s Attorney General have disproportionately affected marginalized communities.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Elizabeth Warren

Senator Warren officially announced her widely anticipated candidacy at a Feb. 9 rally in Lawrence, Massachusetts. “It won’t be enough to just undo the terrible acts of this administration,” she told the crowd gathered in her home state. “Our fight is for big, structural change.”

Having earned degrees from the University of Houston and Rutgers Law School, Warren was involved in the academia before her political career. An expert in bankruptcy law, she taught at the University of Houston, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard University. Warren beat incumbent Sen. Scott Brown in 2012; she was elected to a second term in 2018 with over 60% of the vote.

Warren rose to national prominence following her keynote address at the 2016 Democratic National Convention and became Vice Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus the subsequent year. Considered by some as a "progressive left-wing populist," Warren has focused on consumer protection, student loan reform, economic opportunity for all, and the social safety net during her Senate tenure. She is focused on elevating middle-income families and has advocated for the regulation of financial institutions, contributing to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Warren’s greatest publicity debacle occurred in 2018 when she decided to release the results of a DNA test in an attempt to debunk claims that she did not have Native American ancestry. During previous election cycles, Warren faced pushback for having listed herself as a minority in the faculty directories of law schools she had taught at. Although the report confirmed Native American genes were in her pedigree, the relative could have likely been from six to 10 generations ago. Such relations were deemed minuscule by pundits and Warren’s handling of the results became a subject of national ridicule for an extended news cycle. The negative publicity that ensued, coupled with the widespread impression of her having close ties to the Democratic party establishment, will likely be the biggest obstacles between Senator Warren and the nomination.

The Gavel will release more spotlights on candidates in the coming weeks!

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