Democratic US Senator Elizabeth Warren arrives to announce her entry into the 2020 US presidential race in Lawrence, Massachusetts Image Credit: AFP

The first contests to pick the Democrat who’ll challenge President Donald Trump in 2020 play to the strengths of Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, giving each a significant edge when voters begin winnowing the field of contenders.

Both are talented fund-raisers who set down markers by jumping in early to what’s already shaping up to be a crowded field.

Warren, struggling to move past criticism over her claims of Native American heritage, aimed for a fresh start on Saturday with the formal launch of her 2020 presidential campaign, saying that she is fighting for all Americans.

The Massachusetts Democrat, a leader of the party’s progressive wing, made her announcement from a historic site in Lawrence — a city north-west of Boston that was once the hub of textile mills and which launched the US organised labour movement. Warren, 69, has made workers’ rights, fair wages and access to health care central to her campaign.

“This is the fight of our lives. The fight to build an America where dreams are possible, an America that works for everyone,” Warren said. “And that is why I stand here today: to declare that I am a candidate for president of the United States of America.”

Warren is part of an increasingly crowded and diverse field of Democrats vying for the chance to challenge President Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee. A year before any ballots are cast in a Democratic primary, many of those candidates are spending this weekend talking to voters in the early-nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Source: CNN power rankings Image Credit: AP, Getty Images | Graphic News/©Gulf News

Warren’s announcement was followed by US Senator Amy Klobuchar, 58, who revealed her presidential plans in her home state of Minnesota.

Is there any precedent for Warren?

Most polls of voter preference currently show California’s Harris and Warren trailing former Vice-President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders, who have made previous presidential runs and are better known. Yet it’s not clear whether Biden or Sanders will run, and each has baggage from past campaigns that would complicate their path to the nomination in a party increasingly defined by women, minorities and young people. The Iowa caucuses are followed by the New Hampshire primary, where candidates from neighbouring New England states enjoy a built-in edge. Vermont Sanders in 2016 and John Kerry of Massachusetts in 2004 won blowout victories, and Warren hopes to follow suit.

Her [Warren]... policy and background in the Democratic arena puts her out in the the front of the pack, or towards the front of the pack.

- Bryce Smith, Democratic Party chairman, Dallas County

Why are the two considered front-runners?

For now, many Democratic political operatives gauge Warren and Harris as front-runners for the nomination. “Harris has the most self-evident path on paper,” said Brian Fallon, who served as Hillary Clinton’s national press secretary in 2016 and isn’t involved in any of the current campaigns. “Warren has the crispest rationale and has shown a penchant for driving the conversation.”

“I would definitely say that Elizabeth Warren is a front-runner,” said Bryce Smith, the 27-year-old Democratic Party chairman of Dallas County, which includes the Des Moines area. “The name recognition dramatically helps her. Her progressive policy and background in the Democratic arena puts her out in the front of the pack, or towards the front of the pack.”

So when will things become clearer?

The Iowa caucuses a year from now will mark the official beginning of the months-long nomination process. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand have already jumped in, and at least a dozen other Democrats have taken at least preliminary steps toward a campaign or are considering the race.

Warren’s economic message — taking on Wall Street and addressing income inequality — is well-suited to the populist leanings of the state’s Democrats. Iowa catapulted Barack Obama’s insurgent 2008 candidacy and gave Sanders an initial burst of momentum to make a highly competitive challenge to Clinton, who was the odds-on favourite in 2016.

How do the rest of the primaries work?

If Warren pulls off a win in Iowa “she should have an advantage in New Hampshire from the exposure she’s had for many years just being here, that most people who run for president from Massachusetts end up having,” said Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic consultant based in Boston. “You do that, you’re hard to stop.” Next come Nevada and South Carolina toward the end of February, and then the Super Tuesday states on March 3, where Harris enjoys advantages and is widely seen as the candidate to beat, given her biographical appeal and policy emphasis on civil and immigrant rights.

How does Harris stand apart?

South Carolina is the first primary with a significant share of black voters, a pillar of the Democratic base that fuelled the victories of Clinton in 2016 and Obama in 2008, and Harris’s message is tailored to that community. The Palmetto State has picked the Democratic nominee in all but one contest since 1992, and Harris, who would be the first black woman in the Oval Office, has history-making appeal to a base that’s also heavy on women. “I think she’s the front-runner in the primary, period. In South Carolina, definitely,” said Bakari Sellers, a former Democratic state senator from South Carolina. “My momma and her friends choose the Democratic nominee,” he said, referring to older black women who are active and have leading roles in the community.

Another benefit for Harris is that her delegate-rich home state of California votes months earlier than usual, on March 3 — the state’s primary in 2016 was June 7 — and plans to let voters cast their ballots beforehand. Several Super Tuesday states like Alabama and North Carolina have large shares of black voters.

Is there anything that could change the dynamic?

Plenty of factors could change that dynamic, starting with the shape of the field. A run by Sanders, whose message and target constituency are similar to Warren’s, could cost her support. And Booker may be a formidable competitor to Harris among black voters.

“Senator Harris, along with Senator Booker, are positioned to do well,” said Symone Sanders, a former aide to the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign. “But I caution people to think just because they’re black means they have a huge advantage over non-black candidates.”

Both have courted African-American lawmakers and made overtures to voters with their platforms. Harris, who announced candidacy on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, has a proposal to reduce racial disparities in maternal mortality, while Booker has offered a “baby bonds” plan aimed at eliminating the wealth gap between white and black children.

“In a two-person race like in 2008 and 2016, you need to put together a coalition of several different groups of voters,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former adviser to Obama. “But in a large field like the Republican contest in 2016, dominating one group of voters can be sufficient to win.”

Bloomberg to announce 2020 decision by end of month

Orlando, Florida: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he’s planning to decide by the end of the month whether he’ll seek the presidency. The 76-year-old businessman, one of the richest men in the world, has been openly contemplating a Democratic White House bid since late last year. In a Friday interview with The Associated Press, Bloomberg said he has “three more weeks” to announce his decision. He also rejected a recent report suggesting he likely would not run if former Vice-President Joe Biden enters the race. Bloomberg’s decision comes as a handful of high-profile Democrats consider joining the 2020 race. Biden and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke are the most prominent holdouts.