Bette Browne casts an eye over the runners and riders.


The great contenders: Who are the Democrats in the race to take on Donald Trump

The race to select a Democratic candidate to depose incumbent president Donald Trump begins in Iowa on Monday. Bette Browne casts an eye over the runners and riders.

The great contenders: Who are the Democrats in the race to take on Donald Trump

The race to select a Democratic candidate to depose incumbent president Donald Trump begins in Iowa on Monday. Bette Browne casts an eye over the runners and riders.

The opening round in the battle for the White House will begin in Iowa on Monday when Democratic voters in the state will choose a winning candidate in the race to take on president Donald Trump in his re-election bid.

Trump himself is assured of winning the Republican nominating race in Iowa the same day because his two opponents, former Massachusetts governor William Weld and former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh, have all but zero chances of defeating him.

Mr Trump is now one of only three US leaders to have been impeached by the House of Representatives and will be the first to go on to fight for re-election.

Indeed, he will now be likely driven by an even more intense desire for victory in hopes of mitigating what he calls the “stigma” of impeachment.

Meanwhile, his party is enthusiastically rowing in behind his candidacy and has cancelled most of the party’s other nominating contests around the country.

It’s the Democratic race, therefore, that will be the focus of the political drama in Iowa and a win in this first-in-the-nation contest will be a major boost for the candidate’s chances in subsequent primary nomination votes in every state to choose the party’s standard bearer.

A poor showing by the frontrunner, currently former vice president Joe Biden, would be a major body blow to him, while a better-than-expected showing by some of his close rivals, senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar, along with Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, would give their candidacies a major fillip going into the New Hampshire primary eight days later, on February 11.

Sen Amy Klobuchar, right, speaks as from left, Democratic presidential candidates businessman Tom Steyer, Sen Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen Bernie Sanders, and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg before a Democratic presidential primary debate earlier this month. Picture: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
Sen Amy Klobuchar, right, speaks as from left, Democratic presidential candidates businessman Tom Steyer, Sen Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen Bernie Sanders, and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg before a Democratic presidential primary debate earlier this month. Picture: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

However, if New Hampshire voters fail to follow the Iowa result and pick a different winner, the result could throw the race wide open in subsequent states.

Iowa is thus a key battleground and Democrats have been blitzing the state, spending millions of dollars on campaign ads, especially on television.

At one point, 29 Democrats were in the race but a number have since dropped out.

Now 12 candidates are seeking the nomination and in the most recent debate on January 14 in Iowa only six met the criteria to take part in the debate based on poll numbers and financial support.

They were Biden, Warren, Sanders, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and billionaire businessman Tom Steyer.

However, many Democrats said that debate, the last one before the Iowa race, made depressing watching for those hoping for a clear candidate to emerge with the kind of substance and fire the party needs if it is to defeat Trump in November, especially in conservative states like Iowa.

In such states, and indeed in most others, voters make clear in polls that their priorities are access to affordable healthcare and good paying jobs.

Instead, the January 14 debate offered Iowa voters a heated discussion on whether a woman could become president.

Such a topic might have been a big hit over Democratic dinner parties in New York or California but it ill serves the needs of ordinary voters in America and will merely jeopardise the party’s chances of winning back the White House.


Warren has served as a US senator from Massachusetts since 2013.

She is a leading progressive in the Senate, has taught law at several universities and was a Harvard professor.

She is a leader of the party’s liberals and a strong critic of the inequities in US society. She has promised to fight what she calls a “rigged economic system” that she sees as favouring the wealthy.

Her chances

She is promoting a student loan forgiveness proposal that would cancel up to €45,000 of debt for millions of Americans, and she supports free college tuition for students at two- and four-year public institutions.

She also backs universal healthcare.

Among the top contenders, Warren stands out as someone with the political and intellectual commitment and policies to make real progress in transforming America into a more equitable society.

However, for that very reason she is also probably unelectable nationally in the generally conservative country that is America, though she may do very well in a number of liberal states.


Bernie Sanders served as a congressman in the House of Representatives for 16 years before being elected to the Senate in 2006.

He ran for the Democratic nomination unsuccessfully against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

He ran a powerful and passionate campaign and is credited with moving the party towards progressive stances on a number of issues.

His proposals include free tuition at public colleges, a $15 (€13.50) minimum hourly wage and universal healthcare, or what he calls “Medicare for all”.

His chances

Polls show Sanders consistently near the top of the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. If he can manage to win the first few contests, then it may become very difficult for the others to catch up on him.

However, like Warren, the chances of Sanders derailing the Trump juggernaut appear minimal, although for Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, it would be an even tougher battle than that facing Warren.

Laudable as the progressive polices of both candidates may be, the resounding defeat of either at the hands of Trump would be all but certain, especially as this election promises to be all about sound bite over substance.


Since 2012, Buttigieg has served as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, the state where Trump’s vice president Mike Pence was governor.

Buttigieg served in the US navy reserve from 2009 to 2017, including a deployment to Afghanistan for seven months in 2014.

Earlier, he had graduated with honours from Harvard and won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford.

He is the first openly gay Democratic candidate to run for president.

In 2018, three years after the US Supreme Court struck down state bans on gay marriage by a dramatic 5-4 ruling, Buttigieg married Chasten Glezman, who now goes by the name Chasten Buttigieg on social media.

On the campaign trail, he has frequently spoken about America’s struggle before 2015 to legalise gay marriage.

I’m not critical of his [Pence’s] faith; I’m critical of bad policies. I don’t have a problem with religion. I’m religious, too. I have a problem with religion being used as a justification to harm people and especially in the LGBT community.

His chances

Buttigieg is the youngest candidate in the group, exactly 40 years younger than Sanders, and comes across as smart, articulate, progressive, and personable.

He has acquitted himself very well in a number of debates but his lack of experience of national political office tends to work against him.

Still, polls show he could do quite well in Iowa and if he were to come in second or third it would put him in a strong position going into the other races.

However, in the unlikely event that he becomes the Democratic candidate to face Trump, he would not fare well against the president.

The fact he lacks political experience wouldn’t be the real problem, after all Trump’s election proved that.

The problem for him is that America is not remotely ready for a gay man or woman to be president.


Klobuchar, a former prosecutor and corporate lawyer, was first elected to the Senate in 2006, becoming Minnesota’s first elected female US senator.

She was re-elected in 2012 and 2018.

Her chances

Klobuchar needed a star performance in the January 14 Iowa debate to close the gap between herself and the four top candidates, but she didn’t get the boost she needed. She’s always

been good in the debates but not good enough to move her candidacy upwards in the polls.

Her stance on health insurance, however, could play well in Iowa. She opposes eliminating private health insurance under the Medicare for All plan (universal health insurance) touted by Sanders and Warren.

She made her point like this in a previous debate: “Bernie wrote the [Medicare for All] bill, but I read the bill.

And it says that we will no longer have private insurance, as we know it.

That means 149m Americans will no longer be able to have their current insurance. And I don’t think that’s a bold idea, I think it’s a bad idea.”

Her pragmatism could attract a significant number of Iowa voters who see her rivals as too liberal.


Biden, the former vice president, is leading the field in most polls and looks like the only candidate who may have a chance of ultimately defeating Trump in November.

He is by far the most experienced politician in the race, having served over 30 years in the Senate and two terms as Barack Obama’s vice president from 2009 to 2017.

This is his third presidential run.

His first bid in 1987 ended after a plagiarism scandal when he was accused of using a speech delivered by British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. He ran again in 2008, when Obama triumphed.

His chances

Biden’s chances are very good in Iowa, according to most polls, which put him in the lead. However, this is not because, like Warren, Sanders, Klobuchar, and Buttigieg, he’s offering policies that might change the country for the better but because he knows this race will be trench warfare and he’s been down in the trenches and survived many times during his career.

He also appears to be the candidate Trump fears most, Democrats contend, accusing Trump of seeking to undermine him in the Ukraine affair, which ironically led to Trump’s impeachment.

Biden also attracts support from across the political spectrum, from blacks, Latinos, and working-class and middle-class voters.

He is also seen as personally likable and may thus appeal to the growing number of Americans who indicate in polls that they see Trump as divisive, crude and untrustworthy.

Biden’s weak point is that he is prone to making gaffes in debates, although Democrats tend to dismiss this as a minor flaw.

In one poll, for example, 86% of likely Democratic voters thought Biden could “probably” or “definitely” beat Trump.


After Iowa and New Hampshire come the largely conservative states of Nevada and South Carolina to close out the February contests.

Candidates who hope to stay in the race must do reasonably well in some if not all of these four contests so that they can head into the crucial Super Tuesday voting on March 3, which sees a dizzying slew of deciders in 14 states, including for the first time California and Texas both of which have usually held their contests much later in the year.

Other primaries will continue at a frenetic pace during the rest of March so that, by the end of the month, 30 of the 50 states will have voted for the candidate they want to take on Trump in November.

By then, or even as early as Super Tuesday, enough major contests will have been held to indicate who is likely to have the most votes and emerge as the winning Democrat when the primaries end in June.

In July, the winning Democratic candidate will be formally nominated at the party’s national convention, while Trump will be formally nominated at his party’s convention in August.

Three months later, after facing each other in a number of TV debates, both candidates will finally battle it out in the national election on November 3.

The national picture

‘America is better than this’ has become a popular refrain for Democrats opposing Trump’s incendiary populism.

And maybe America is, but then again when voters go to the polls the value of their retirement investments, now soaring on Wall Street, may win out over their personal values.

It won’t be enough, therefore, for the eventual Democratic candidate to simply fight against Trump’s perceived character flaws.

They might do well to note the words of the president’s one-time political strategist, Steve Bannon, who said in 2017: “I want them [Democrats] to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

He was right then and he’s still right today, and so was Bill Clinton with his winning 1992 slogan: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

The chosen Democratic candidate will have to offer voters more and better-paying jobs, and more affordable health insurance and educational opportunities.

And voters won’t want to hear these promises from the two Democratic billionaire candidates in the race: Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer.

That message will only resonate in the forgotten corners of America if it comes from the likes of Biden.

Biden is by no means a perfect candidate, but right now he looks like the best chance the party has in Iowa and other states come November.

The harsh reality for Democrats is that in a match-up between Trump and any of the other current candidates, the race may as well be called now for Trump.

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