Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Field Of Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Is Slowly Starting To Shrink


The field of Democratic presidential hopefuls is slowly shrinking. The latest departure - Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. She dropped out yesterday after failing to make the upcoming debate. All the 2020 candidates are now caught between the need to build the national support required to get into the debates while at the same time acting with individual voters in early primary states. NPR's Don Gonyea has more.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: The thing that always stands out in Iowa and New Hampshire is not just that they vote first but also how voters there know that they get to help decide which candidates keep going. This year, though, feels different.

BRAD ANDERSON: Iowa really isn't the first winnowing process in the primary anymore. Making the third DNC debate is really the first contest for the Democrats.

GONYEA: Brad Anderson is a veteran Iowa campaign operator who ran President Obama's reelection effort there in 2012.

ANDERSON: Because if you don't make that debate stage, you are not a part of the national conversation anymore.

GONYEA: That debate is in two weeks, and it has indeed started the winnowing process, forcing hard decisions for candidates who failed to get the required 130,000 individual donors and 2% support in four separate polls. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand tweeted this out yesterday.


KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: I wanted you to hear from me first. But after more than eight incredible months, I'm ending my presidential campaign.

GONYEA: Earlier, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper dropped out. Also done is Washington state's governor, Jay Inslee. The looming debate deadline prompted some desperate fundraising pitches. Senator Michael Bennet posted this video on Facebook. It's from the Iowa State Fair. He's eating from a giant bucket of cookies.


MICHAEL BENNET: For every donation I receive today, I'll eat one cookie. There are 130,000 cookies in this.

GONYEA: Bennet is still in the race despite not making the debate stage. A big goal for candidates is to get a viral moment that would then spread to Facebook and YouTube and to smartphones everywhere. Senator Kamala Harris had such a moment in the very first debate. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg got one when he said this about Vice President Mike Pence during a CNN town hall.


PETE BUTTIGIEG: How could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency? Is it that he stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump? I don't know.


BUTTIGIEG: I don't know.

GONYEA: Prior to that, Buttigieg was little-known. Afterwards, a Des Moines rally expected to draw fewer than a hundred people attracted some 1,500. Since then he's been in the top five in the Democratic field. Here's what else is new this year. Candidates are campaigning all over the country for a host of reasons.


ELIZABETH WARREN: Hello, Minnesota.

JOE BIDEN: Let me tell you why I chose Pittsburgh.

BERNIE SANDERS: It looks like Pasadena's ready for a political revolution.

GONYEA: Jessica Byrd is an activist who believes Democrats benefit from the really large field they've had. Byrd says more voices and more diversity among candidates is a good thing.

JESSICA BYRD: I think we got to deal with the fact that it's going to be a little loud right now, knowing that what it's allowing us to do is to build hundreds of thousands of new voices into the process by giving them a person to cheer for.

GONYEA: In fact, she worries the Democratic Party is winnowing the field too early.

Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.