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Top 10 Democratic 2024 presidential candidates (besides Biden), ranked

National Democrats appear much more content with Biden than the base is. So what happens if that changes?

Voters listen to President Biden as he delivers remarks in Virginia in 2021. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
8 min

This post has been updated with news about Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) intentions.

At long last, we have a major candidate in the 2024 Democratic presidential primary.

It’s a guy whom only about half of Democrats want to run, half say is too old to serve, and only about 4 in 10 approve of strongly. Just 1 in 5 say they would be enthusiastic about his winning.

This same man appears to be on a glide path to winning the Democratic nomination — for now.

President Biden’s newly announced reelection bid is without comparison in modern American political history. Never have we seen so few members of a president’s party wanting him to seek reelection. At the same time, this is an incumbent president whom nobody wants to be seen undercutting — especially as a perhaps-likely rematch with the man Biden already beat in 2020, Donald Trump, looms.

Democrats, long caricatured as aimless infighters, are suddenly, seemingly the party that falls in line for the purported good of the party’s electoral hopes (in stark contrast with Republicans). It’s evident that a capable alternative to Biden could step forward and have a good shot at nabbing the nomination against a guy most Democrats aren’t clamoring to renominate. But nobody seems to want to be the first to leap. And the name of the game for now seems to be seeing how Biden’s campaign goes and how the 80-year old is able to handle himself amid the age questions, and going from there.

But that setup has also led others to prepare for the what-ifs.

What if Biden struggles and is looking like a general election liability? For now, Democrats appear willing to vote for him, with 88 percent saying they would definitely or probably vote for him in the general election, but just 22 percent of independents say the same. And what if Biden ultimately doesn’t finish the campaign, for whatever reason?

It’s a question that is more real and important than Democrats want to publicly acknowledge. And the stakes of beating Trump are so large that this conversation might not be able to stay (mostly) behind closed doors for too long.

So if Biden does falter, who could step in? We’ve been ranking the top 10 potential Democratic nominees including Biden for a while — the assumption being that a contested primary was possible. Below, we’re adjusting that slightly to look at who would be the most formidable in case the party decides it’s best to turn the page.

There are no easy answers or obvious alternatives here, which appears to be part of the reason Democrats have settled on Biden so far. (A recent poll asked people to name a candidate they favored if Biden didn’t run, and half didn’t even offer one.) But that could change. It’s also possible people were keeping their powder dry and hoping not to alienate Biden’s team by leaning in to a run, but that calculus could change now that he’s in, too.

If it does, here’s who to keep an eye on, ranked from least to most likely.

10. Phil Murphy/J.B. Pritzker

They’re both governors of blue states (Illinois and New Jersey). They’re both in their second terms. They’re both wealthy. And they’ve both made it quite clear that they are interested in running for president at some point. Whether they fit the profile of what Democratic voters are actually looking for is another matter. But if we had to pick which one made more sense, we’d probably go with Pritzker. That’s in part because his personal wealth — estimated at $3.6 billion — might be attractive for and helpful in an abbreviated campaign.

9. Raphael G. Warnock

The Georgia senator hasn’t gotten much buzz, but we have to think that would change in a hurry if Biden falters. Warnock won consecutive Senate campaigns in a prime swing state in 2020 and 2022. A pair of runoffs in those races means he’s run something amounting to four general election campaigns in that time period, and you have to think he would want a break. But next to Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), perhaps no Democratic senator’s stock is higher right now.

8. Bernie Sanders

The Vermont senator reiterated Tuesday that he would not challenge Biden in a primary and will seek to rally progressives behind Biden’s candidacy. As for a race without Biden, he is often up there with Vice President Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in the polls. He would also start such a race with a base unlike anyone else on this list. But you have to wonder if the answer to a party that might view an 80-year-old as being too old is an 81-year-old who has already run and lost twice.

7. Amy Klobuchar

The Minnesota senator is among those seen as quietly doing the things one would do to remain a part of the conversation in a post-Biden race. She makes sense as a stand-in for Biden and his more pragmatic brand of politics, but she might have competition for that lane with some governors on this list.

6. Josh Shapiro

Arguably more than anyone on this list, this would be a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency situation. The Pennsylvania governor is just months into his job after winning by double digits against a flawed opponent in a swing state. He makes more sense as a 2028 prospect. But if we’re talking mostly about a situation in which the party is suddenly looking for the best and most electable alternative, plenty will home in on him.

5. Gavin Newsom

The California governor, despite his protestations, is widely viewed as being among the most likely candidates to run if Biden falters. He’s gone to great lengths to build his national profile in recent months, while pushing his party toward a more in-your-face approach to taking on Republicans. It’s easy to see how that message might play well.

4. Gretchen Whitmer

The 2022 election results seem to have faded as a consideration on the Republican side, with voters increasingly moving toward Trump and his bad electoral record — and away from 19-point-victor-in-a-former-swing-state Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. But Democrats have shown they’re more interested in pragmatism, including by nominating Biden in 2020. And it’s hard to see them doing worse than the well-regarded and liked female governor of a swing state (Michigan) who has won two campaigns there by about 10 points. Whitmer has said she wouldn’t run even in a Biden-less race, but arguably even more so than with Shapiro or Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, it’s not difficult to see a huge recruiting effort emerging. Plenty will believe she is the answer.

3. Jared Polis

The Colorado governor makes sense for many of the same reasons as Shapiro and Whitmer; he won reelection in November by nearly 20 points in a blue former swing state and is well-liked in the party. (For a rundown of how Polis might fit into a presidential campaign, see this from George Will.) But he’s left the door a little more ajar to running one day.

2. Kamala D. Harris

Biden’s announcement seems to erase any doubts that Harris will be his running mate again in 2024. There have been questions about how voters might feel about that, given that her ascension to the top job is a more real prospect with Biden in his 80s, and she’s generally less popular than both Biden and recent vice presidents. Polls suggest she’s the nominal front-runner in a Biden-less race, but without anything approaching a convincing margin.

1. Pete Buttigieg

The transportation secretary is seemingly aiming higher — whether that’s in 2024 or 2028 — after passing on running for an open Senate seat in his adoptive home state of Michigan. While he finished fifth in pledged delegates in 2020, it’s worth recalling that he just about won both of the first two states, Iowa and New Hampshire. He quickly faltered when the contests moved to more diverse electorates in Nevada and South Carolina, and his lack of appeal to minority voters is a major obstacle that must be dealt with. But he’s also the most established and capable national messenger on this list. And perhaps more people would give him a look now that he’s no longer just a 30-something mayor of a medium-size city.

Others worth mentioning: Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, Rep. Ro Khanna (Calif.), North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, Sen. Mark Kelly (Ariz.), former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Marianne Williamson

Election 2024

Get live updates on the 2024 presidential election from our reporters in Washington and on the campaign trail.

Who is running? Top contenders for the GOP 2024 nomination include former president Donald Trump and former Trump U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he was dropping out just ahead of the New Hampshire primary. For the Democrats, President Biden is running for reelection in 2024. Here is The Post’s ranking of the top 10 Republican presidential candidates for 2024 and the top 10 Democratic candidates.

Republican delegate count: GOP candidates for president compete to earn enough delegates to secure their party’s nomination. We’re tracking the Republican 2024 delegate count.

Key issues: Compare where the 2024 presidential candidates stand on key issues like abortion, climate and the economy.

Key dates and events: From January to June, voters in all states and territories will pick their party’s nominee for president ahead of the summer conventions. Here are key dates and events on the 2024 election calendar.