WASHINGTON: One year on from Donald Trump’s shock election, US Democrats are still struggling to heal the wounds of Hillary Clinton’s calamitous defeat and identify a champion to challenge a deeply unpopular president in 2020.
For Democrats it has been a sobering first 10 months under Donald Trump. Republicans control the White House and Congress. With Trump’s upset wins in once-liberal bastions Wisconsin and Michigan, the heartland is trending more conservative.
But with Trump’s approval ratings in quicksand, frustration has also grown among divided Republicans.
If presidential tumult persists and the investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia gets legs, Democrats may not be the only ones eyeing a White House run.
As the Democratic Party of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton struggles to return to relevance, some lawmakers see the political glass half full.
The party is “more united and more energized today than it was a year ago,” Democratic Sen. Chris Coons told Agence France Presse, referring to the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders divide which consumed Democrats.
Nearly 1,100 days before the next presidential election, a Democratic shadow campaign is in full swing, with several hopefuls already visiting early-voting Iowa and New Hampshire.
“There’s really no heir apparent, no figure who dominates the field,” said political science professor Chris Galdieri of Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire.
For Democrats seeking their political savior, another hurdle lies in the way: reclaiming lost congressional seats in next year’s mid-term elections.
“What happens in 2018 is important for what happens in 2020,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen said.
The potential presidential candidates stretch into the dozens. With Clinton acknowledging she is “done” being a candidate, here are the top likely contenders:
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the 2016 also-ran against Clinton, is still a player. He attends political rallies, debates Republicans on television, and maintains a vast grassroots army.
In an October New Hampshire poll of 2020 Democratic primaries, voters put Sanders first.
Popular former vice president Joe Biden, a crucial party bridge to white working-class voters, came second, and if there is a veteran Democrat waiting in the wings, it could be him.
He has acknowledged that his son’s death from cancer in 2015 was the sole reason he did not pursue the nomination last year.
Sanders would be 79 on election day, and Biden 77.
Firebrand Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 68, would have a tangible base of support should she run. Like Sanders, she is among the party’s popular, sharp-tongued liberals. But her politics align with Sanders — she backs his universal health care plan.
Sen. Sherrod Brown is a populist flying under the radar, but he has firm progressive credentials. Being from the crucial state of Ohio, he could help Democrats win back support in the Rust Belt.
Sen. Cory Booker is already a star, but there is room to grow on the national stage. A gifted speaker and champion of the poor, the youthful African-American is hailed as Obama’s heir.
Kamala Harris is the new charismatic US senator from California, a fervent supporter of immigrant and civil rights who has already courted major donors at fundraisers and meet-and-greets.
Also in this category: Senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Montana Governor Steve Bullock.
If Democrats want to fight Trump fire with fire, billionaire TV icon Oprah Winfrey is their likeliest option. She has extraordinarily deep pockets and massive name recognition.
Business and entertainment mogul Mark Cuban and wealthy environmental activist Tom Steyer are also mulling runs.
These are not household names, but that may change.
Congressman John Delaney of Maryland is the first Democrat to declare his 2020 candidacy. As an economic centrist with hardscrabble roots who made millions starting successful businesses, he could appeal to frustrated Trumpists.
Massachusetts congressman Seth Moulton is a military veteran with a Harvard business degree, and Ohio’s Tim Ryan raised his profile last year by challenging Nancy Pelosi for her House leadership job.
Americans might want such newcomers to carry the baton, said Matt Paul, who ran Clinton’s 2016 campaign in Iowa.
“I think there will be pressure and interest in a new face, a new story, someone who… energizes and builds out this base again,” he said.
Internal revolts are rarely successful, but Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party has all but invited a 2020 challenge.
Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker have announced they are not seeking re-election, freeing them up to criticize the president and possibly mount insurgent campaigns.
Ohio Governor John Kasich, a 2016 candidate, has not ruled out a run. Other 2016 holdovers to watch: Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.