The Democratic primary elections are a year away, and yet more than a dozen politicians with varying degrees of progressive ideals are vying for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president.
This may sound like a crowded ballot but, technically speaking, there are more than 200 Democratic candidates running for president in 2020. The Federal Election Commission requires any presidential potential to register their candidacy within 15 days of receiving or spending $5,000 or more, but some have registered without yet spending a dime.
Of course, not all of these candidates will be seen in debates. The Democratic National Committee has set guidelines to limit its debates to 20 participants: only those who register at least 1% support in three polls or raise funds from at least 65,000 unique donors (with a minimum of 200 per state in at least 20 states) are eligible to debate. In the event more than 20 candidates qualify, those meeting both thresholds will be favored for participation.
March measurements aggregated by RealClearPolitics show former Vice President Joe Biden leading in every poll, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders often not far behind–the two are equally favored in an Emerson survey. This is despite the fact that Biden has yet to officially announce his candidacy, although he’s teased the possibility for months now.
California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker are similarly well-known for their political careers, successful stumping, or fiery opinions. There are many more, however, who tail the polls with sometimes less than 1%.
These are the 2020 Democratic candidates you might not have heard of before and their platforms.
Marianne Williamson: The Holistic Leader
As the best-selling author of more than a dozen books, Williamson is not your typical politician. She’s been teaching, counseling, and writing based on the principles of the 1976 book A Course in Miracles–which she says promotes not any specific religion, but rather universal spiritual reflection–for 35 years.
Her political campaign calls for a “renewal of the spirit of our democracy,” and aims to tackle issues at the root. The platform laid out on her website includes many of the usual Democratic views: creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, protecting the LGBTQ+ community, ending gerrymandering, supporting Planned Parenthood, rejoining the Paris agreement, reforming the criminal justice system, tightening gun control, etc. She also supports middle-class tax cuts, the repealing of Trump’s 2017 corporate tax cuts, the Green New Deal, and Medicare-for-all.
Coming from a background of spiritual teaching and activism (Williamson founded Project Angel Food during the AIDs epidemic to bring food to home-bound patients), there are some aspects of Williamson’s platform that stray drastically from what other Democrats have suggested.
Williamson is aware of her policies’ uniqueness and her position as an outsider in the political field, however, writing on her campaign page, “Spiritual audiences haven’t always been happy with my political activism, and political audiences haven’t always been happy with my spiritual convictions, but the combination of the two is who I am.”
She has proposed new federal departments, including a Department of Childhood and Youth to address children’s needs in schools and a Department of Peacebuilding to advise the president on non-violent solutions. She also aims to revamp the public school system to provide more social and emotional learning to children, including lessons on “comparative religion” for the purpose of “spiritual enlightenment and to help ease religious strife.”
Williamson’s platform addresses the needs of Native American people, saying she will stop Keystone Pipeline construction and promote the protection of tribal sovereignty. She also calls for a $200 billion to $500 billion plan of reparations for slavery, proposing the formation of a council of African-American leaders to determine which programs will benefit from the funds over a 20-year span.
Andrew Yang: The Human-Centered Capitalist
Yang is another candidate with no experience as an elected politician. The son of immigrants, Yang first worked in a healthcare startup and ran an education company before founding Venture for America in 2011. This two-year fellowship program provides opportunities for recent graduates who want to work at a startup.
The lack of political experience doesn’t mean his campaign is lacking in policy, however. The entrepreneur has one of the most exhaustive platforms, with three main highlights: human-centered capitalism, universal basic income, and Medicare-for-all.
The first policy would translate into better regulation of corporations. Yang argues that human-centered capitalism puts more value on people than money. Thus he states a new currency called Digital Social Credit (which can be converted into dollars) should be rewarded to people and organizations who “drive significant social value.”
The second policy, universal basic income, is the driving factor of Yang’s campaign. He proposes every U.S. citizen over the age of 18 should receive $1,000 per month, regardless of income or employment status. This money would come from the consolidation of some welfare programs and the implementation of a 10% value-added tax, or a tax on the production of goods or services a business produces. Universal basic income is also expected to lead to fewer people needing emergency healthcare and welfare, and, according to Yang, will grow the economy by about $2.5 trillion by 2025.
Medicare-for-all, Yang’s third leading policy, is a major part of many Democrats’ platforms. Yang doesn’t stop there, however. He’s fully outlined his beliefs on his campaign website, covering everything from Daylight Saving Time (he’ll extend it) to police brutality (he’ll give every police officer in the U.S. a body camera). He even promises free marriage counseling for all and says the NCAA should pay its athletes.
Like most Democrats, Yang supports stricter gun laws, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the protection of net neutrality, and criminal justice reform. He also proposes increased forgiveness and payback plans for student debt, and supports the Green New Deal.
John Delaney: The Bipartisan Candidate
Delaney’s presidential campaign presents him as a trustworthy, bipartisan lawmaker. He was an entrepreneur prior to entering politics, but has served as one of Maryland’s representatives to Congress since 2012.
In an effort poised to attract moderates, Delaney has promised to only pass bipartisan legislation for the first 100 days of his presidency and debate Congress four times a year to maintain an open dialogue.
Otherwise he has a traditionally Democratic platform, calling for improved voting rights, affordable higher education, and comprehensive immigration reform. He’s also pledged to address the effects of artificial intelligence on the economy and double the earned income tax credit.
His $1 trillion infrastructure plan proposes raising the corporate tax rate to 25%, and he’s suggested a 100% excise tax on big pharmaceutical companies to balance drug prices globally. To aid rural America, Delaney said he’d provide loan forgiveness for students who live and work there for 10 years.
While he does not support the Green New Deal, Delaney has promised to rejoin the Paris agreement, implement a federal carbon tax, and invest in green infrastructure, renewable energy, and negative emissions technologies while ending fossil fuel subsidies. He supports universal healthcare while also maintaining private options.
In addressing minority populations, Delaney presented a “Commitment to Black America” that pledges to increase access to banking services, ensure minority entrepreneurs have opportunities for capital, and amend the criminal justice system. Delaney is also one of the many candidates who supports the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which protects those in the LGBTQ+ community.
Pete Buttigieg: The Millennial Mayor
This millennial mayor is probably the most well-known of the unknown candidates. Pete Buttigieg one of four Democrats former President Barack Obama named as promising political figures back in 2016 (Kamala Harris was another) and with an impressive academic resume, he represents the intellect many wish to see in the White House once again.
Buttigieg is currently in his eighth and final year as mayor of South Bend, Ind.–the same town where he grew up. He’s a former Oxford Rhodes Scholar and a Harvard graduate, proficient in seven different languages. The brains don’t lack brawn, however: Buttigieg was also a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and took seven months leave from his position as mayor to deploy to Afghanistan.
As a presidential candidate, Buttigieg has stressed the need to move away from the “politics of the past.” His campaign video highlights his relationship to younger voters: the generation of school shootings, post-9/11 war, economic immobility, climate change activism, immigration, and more. He supports the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-all.
Buttigieg says he helped to transform a dying South Bend, and would offer a “fresh start” for a national politics. As a married gay man, he would be the first openly homosexual U.S. president.
Tulsi Gabbard: The Aloha Candidate
Like Buttigieg, Gabbard has an impressive resume for someone of just 37 years. She was raised in an interfaith, interracial household and began serving in the Hawaii state legislature at the age of 21. She was deployed twice to the Mideast with the Hawaii Army National Guard, and then served on the Honolulu city council upon her return. Today, Gabbard is a major in the National Guard and a four-term Hawaiian representative in Congress.
Gabbard’s campaign invites the country to “stand united in the spirit of aloha” and work towards peace. She calls for an end to regime change wars and the start of a cooperative foreign policy, saying she can bring a “soldier’s principles” to the White House, including “dignity, honor, and respect.”
Aside from the focus on diplomacy, Gabbard’s platform is overall similar to many other Democrats. She’s not enthusiastic about the Green New Deal, but does promise to tackle climate change with green energy and infrastructure. She supports universal healthcare and criminal justice reform while promising to take on big pharmaceuticals and Wall Street.
John Hickenlooper: The Pragmatic Candidate
Hickenlooper’s career started out pretty far from politics. He was a geologist until he got laid off in the 1980s, and two years of unemployment led him to pursue entrepreneurship.
He went on to open a restaurant and brewery in Denver’s warehouse district. This turned into 15 different restaurants mostly across the Midwest, where Hickenlooper frequently worked with local governments to transform the downtown areas surrounding his business.
In 2003, Hickenlooper successfully ran for Denver mayor, and then went on to serve two terms as Colorado governor, leaving office in January 2019. As a presidential candidate, the former geologist presents himself as a pragmatic person who can get things done with a centrist platform.
He supports universal healthcare, but isn’t fully on board with Medicare-for-all. He thinks the Green New Deal sets “unachievable goals,” but supports legislation that tackles climate change and focuses on green energy (a position that diverges from his usual support for hydraulic fracturing).
Hickenlooper touts his successes in Colorado politics, including expanding healthcare, improving the economy, setting methane emission laws, and implementing stricter gun control laws. While his former offices show his potential, he may also be followed by scandal: a state ethics watchdog committee is investigating whether Hickenlooper accepted free jet rides as governor in violation of state rules. He says he either paid for the rides or the trip wasn’t relevant to his policy formation.
Jay Inslee: The Climate Change Candidate
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report in October 2018 warning urgent and drastic changes are needed if humans are to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Inslee, a longtime advocate for environmental action, is taking that threat seriously: his entire campaign is centered around the U.S. response on climate change.
“I’m the only candidate who will make defeating climate change our nation’s number one priority,” Inslee says in his campaign launch video, arguing a future of 100% renewable energy with a thriving green economy is possible.
Inslee’s career in public service began in 1985. He spent years in the House of Representatives and is now in his second term as governor of Washington State.
As governor, he created a paid family leave program, protected net neutrality, expanded healthcare, and preserved rights for all voters, including women and those of the LGBTQ+ community. He also supports universal healthcare, and in January introduced a “public option” for Washington residents. When Trump enacted a travel ban targeting several majority-Muslim nations, Washington was the first state to sue.
While he supports the conversation around the Green New Deal, Inslee has his own answer to our damaged environment. His plan, titled America’s Climate Mission, has four parts: creating an economy fueled by 100% clean energy and net-zero greenhouse gas pollution; fighting for environmental justice and economic inclusion; investing in good jobs, infrastructure, and innovation; and ending fossil fuel subsidies.
Amy Klobuchar: The Candidate of Opportunity
As the snow pummeled down on Minneapolis last February, Klobuchar–a third-term Minnesota Senator and former lawyer–announced her candidacy for president. Her speech stressed her regional roots and called for unity within the nation, inviting listeners to see “obstacles as our path” to the future.
Like many Democrats, Klobuchar supports the Voting Rights Act, reforming the criminal justice and immigration systems, closing tax loopholes, and tightening gun control. She also stresses the need to guarantee net neutrality and protect privacy online, promising to take on big tech companies and ensure every household has internet by 2022.
The internet goal is part of her $1 trillion infrastructure plan, which also aims to repair roads, modernize public transit, rebuild schools, increase energy efficiencies, and ensure clean water. Part of her plan to pay for this includes raising the corporate tax rate to 25%.
While she doesn’t specifically support the Green New Deal, Klobuchar promised to rejoin the Paris agreement on day one of her presidency. She also pledged to focus her first 100 days on reinstating clean energy regulations and investing in green jobs and infrastructure. While she’s also hesitant to agree to Medicare-for-all, Klobuchar supports universal healthcare and has plans to take on big pharmaceutical companies.
The senator’s bold, hardworking character is a hint that she will always get the job done–but there’s been reports she doesn’t treat her staff very well in the process. The New York Times wrote that Klobuchar once used a comb to eat a salad mid-flight after berating her staff for dropping the fork, then ordered the staff member to clean it. Klobuchar has admitted to being a “tough boss,” but attributes this to the high expectations she sets for herself.
Wayne Messam: The Clean-Slate Candidate
Messam has a plan higher education graduates will likely adore: a one-time erasure of all federal and private student loans. With total student debt well above $1 trillion, Messam argues completely freeing graduates of this burden would boost annual GDP between $86 billion and $108 billion while creating more than 1 million new jobs each year. This ambitious plan would be paid for in part by the rescinding of Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, says Messam.
As the mayor of Miramar, Fla., Messam is used to tackling big problems on a smaller scale: his city has passed a living wage, fought the oil industry, pledged support to the Paris agreement, protected immigrants, brought jobs back from China, and sued the state to overturn a law backed by the National Rifle Association.
Like some other politicians, his career began with business. Messam, the son of immigrants, founded an environmentally minded construction company with his wife, and then went on to become a city commissioner. Now he’s in his second term as the first black mayor of Miramar.
Aside from the student loan cancellation and a focus on gun control, Messam has not made many overt statements about his platform. He’s said he supports the “urgency and the end goal” of the Green New Deal, and plans to tackle the high costs of healthcare.
He has a point of trouble in his past, however, as the Broward Office of Inspector General investigated Messam during his 2015 mayoral race for questionable expenditures. The office closed the investigation after Messam refused to interview, but referred the matter to the Florida Elections Commission. The FEC has yet to make a public decision, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
Tim Ryan: The Blue-Collar Candidate
The most recent Democrat to throw their hat into the ring is Ryan, an Ohio representative since 2003. Ryan’s campaign, launched April 4, focuses on his Rust Belt roots. He grew up in Ohio with the majority of his family working in factories.
“A lot of people have been left behind,” Ryan says in his launch video.
While he represents a predominately red area and is playing off similar sentiments as Trump, Ryan is offering progressive solutions. He wants to help coal workers not by revitalizing a dying industry, but by providing green energy jobs “that are equivalent in wages and benefits,” Ryan told The Washington Post. He supports some version of the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-all.
As the New York Times writes, Ryan’s stances on gun control and abortion used to be more conservative, but have since shifted to align more closely with his Democratic peers.
Juli?n Castro: The Immigration Candidate
Castro is no stranger to the national stage, so chances are, you’ve probably heard his name before, but don’t know much about him. After serving as mayor of San Antonio from 2009 to 2014, he became the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama, where he focused on accessible housing, veteran homelessness, and the need for internet in public housing.
The grandchild of an immigrant and raised by a single mother, Castro’s main platform is his People First immigration policy. The program calls for changes most of the Democratic candidates support, including a path to citizenship for undocumented individuals and DREAMers (those who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children) and an end to President Donald Trump’s travel bans that many say were fueled by racial bias.
Castro also calls for increased refugee admissions, with adaptations to allow for those fleeing crises caused by climate change. He wants to reform Immigration and Customs Enforcement, end their use of detention (except in serious cases), and promote aid programs in Central America.
Outside of immigration, Castro supports the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-all. In his speech announcing his candidacy for president, Castro stressed the need to address police brutality against people of color and to reform the country’s criminal justice system. He implemented a universal pre-K program as mayor of San Antonio, and says he would aim to make it nationwide.
Kirsten Gillibrand: The #MeToo Candidate
Since being elected to the House of Representatives in 2006, Gillibrand has also made headlines as a champion for women. But here’s what else you should know about her:
Gillibrand moved from the House to the Senate in 2009, and shortly thereafter launched Off The Sidelines, a program dedicated to recruiting and supporting women candidates for higher office.
The New York senator has been a steadfast supporter of the #MeToo movement. She spoke out against former Sen. Al Franken, even when it wasn’t popular to do so, maintaining that there must be reparations for sexual misconduct no matter the political party. Despite this, a member of Gillibrand’s staff once quit over alleged mishandling of sexual harassment complaints. Gillibrand’s office said they had conducted a thorough investigation of the matter, but the ordeal has led to Gillibrand being criticized as hypocritical.
As a political candidate, Gillibrand comes across as a no-nonsense advocate for change. She supports both a Green New Deal and Medicare-for-all, and says she has introduced national paid family leave legislation every Congress since 2013. This, affordable child care, universal pre-K, and tax relief for middle-class and low-income families are all on her agenda.
The rest of her platform includes many Democratic norms, including support for the Voting Rights Act, a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, tighter gun control, support for unions, and plans to address institutional racism and aid LGBTQ+ rights. She also proposes making community college tuition-free and eliminating tuition and fees at public four-year colleges for families that make up to $125,000 per year.