A total free-for-all. That would be the best way to describe this year's battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.
At last count, 24 men and women have announced their candidacies for the Democratic nomination. They include individuals from a variety of backgrounds. The field includes current or former U.S. Senate or House members, mayors of small and large cities, governors, entrepreneurs, and even a former vice president. The candidates are a mosaic of America - more women running than ever before and almost every minority represented.
I've been a party activist since 1976 and there has never been a year anywhere close to this one. The closest was probably 1976. In that year, as in 2019, no incumbent president or vice president was running, and those are the years in which you get large fields of candidates. In 1976, there were about 13 candidates running and an obscure one-term Georgia governor and peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter emerged victorious from the Iowa caucuses and went on to become the 39th president of the United States. (As an interesting footnote, the presidential preference group that actually "won" the Iowa caucuses that year was "undecided.")
So who is the frontrunner at this point? Well, there really isn't one. It's like a preseason football poll. It is rare that who leads the polls this early gets the nomination. In fact, it's almost a curse. Like gravity, the only way you have to go is down and your backside is in the crosshairs of every challenger. And there is also a lot of last-minute momentum change.
But you obviously can't ignore Joe Biden, who gets close to 35 percent of the support in most polls. Never underestimate Biden - he's been around a long time for a reason. Biden is one of the most likable and charismatic politicians I have ever met (Biden has close ties to Woodbury County, enjoying friendships with the late Betty Strong as well as the activist O'Brien family).
Biden's best weapon so far is Donald Trump himself. Biden's favorable ratings are reflected, in large part, by the perception he is the candidate with the best chance of defeating Trump, and Trump's preoccupation with Biden seems to reaffirm that strength. One thing is for sure, Biden will be around come nomination time.
Bernie Sanders seems to be in a solid second place with around 16 percent support. I think Bernie is going to have problems this time. In 2020, there are plenty of other candidates besides Sanders to choose from, and I believe many Democrats will choose Elizabeth Warren instead.
Warren backs up her income disparity rhetoric with specific proposals to address issues like student debt. And, as a person who knows, she tells how Wall Street really works. I think the debates will serve to Warren's advantage and help her distinguish herself from the field with a very interesting firebrand form of populism.
Money will be the first thing to start winnowing out the field. As former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack found out, it costs a lot of money to run for president. And if you don't meet the prescribed debate threshold for donors, you won't get to the big stage. Ask Lindsey Graham how well that worked out.
Although the Iowa caucuses will still be critical, especially for lesser-known candidates who can have a "breakout" opportunity, it may not be a deal-breaker for all the candidates, especially with larger states like California moving up and "Super Tuesday" just around the corner. That definitely benefits a Kamala Harris and a Cory Booker.
Along with Harris, it appears to me that the candidacies of Biden, Warren, O'Rourke and Klobuchar all have some chance to emerge out of the pack. But who knows this year and these days?
But I will make one bold prediction - this will be the first brokered Democratic convention in close to 100 years.
Next week: Linda Holub
A Sioux City resident and local attorney, Al Sturgeon is a former Democratic state representative and senator. He is the father of six children.