Updated, March 19th, 2019.
November 3, 2020, looms in the distance. The day when voters will head to the ballots for the 2020 presidential election. And though we have almost two years until the day is upon us, the election is already heating up, with just about every theorized “maybe” throwing their hats into the ring, announcing their candidacies or, at the very least, stating an intention to “explore the options.” It seems like just about all comers — from seasoned politicians to billionaire businessmen — have decided that 2020 is their year.
This is the most diverse set of candidates in American history. Women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community have all come forward, and it’s shaping up to be a head-spinning, confusing, busy election. With that in mind, you’re probably asking: “Who the hell is officially running, and what do they believe?”
If you want to know more about the 2020 presidential candidates, here’s your guide to their beliefs on major issues:
Beto O’Rourke, former Representative from Texas
After much hemming and hawing and toying with our emotions, Beto O’Rourke officially announced his candidacy for president on March 14. In his announcement, he said, “This is a defining moment of truth for this country, and for every single one of us.” Of the problems facing the nation, he said, “They will either consume us, or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States of America.”
If you need a refresher, O’Rourke is the lanky, road-tripping former House Rep who almost unseated Senator Ted Cruz this past fall. Almost. Running on a moderate-progressive campaign, O’Rourke became nationally known not only for his grassroots organizing but for the fact that he was, like, pretty effing cool when he was younger, what with the fact that he rocked a dress while playing bass in a band. Very 90s. Before his Senate run, O’Rourke had been a member of the House of Representatives from 2012.
He is considered moderate, and even slightly right-leaning compared to most of the other Democratic candidates.
Climate change: O’Rouke would rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. Further, he has said, “Literally, the future of our world depends on” tackling climate change. And though outlets like CNBC have reported that he’s not a supporter of the Green New Deal, at his kick-off campaign event, he endorsed the GND, saying, “Some will criticize the Green New Deal for being too bold or being unmanageable. I tell you what, I haven’t seen anything better that addresses this singular crisis we face, a crisis that could at its worst lead to extinction. The Green New Deal does that. It ties it to the economy and acknowledges that all of the things are interconnected.” He has expressed doubt about whether or not it’s feasible to pass the measure in the past, but asserts that swift action is our only chance.
LGBTQ rights: In 2017, O’Rourke released a statement, condemning Trump’s trans military ban, stating, “Every time America has opened opportunities to those previously denied it, we’ve become stronger.” At one of his Senate campaign rallies, he talked extensively about the need for Texas to pass comprehensive civil rights protections for LGBTQ individuals.
Immigration: Having grown up in El Paso, Texas, right on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, O’Rourke is passionate about passing comprehensive immigration reform. One option for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.? Instead of amnesty, O’Rourke “wants a three-to-five-year process for immigrants to obtain green cards.” He also supports passing the DREAM Act, which would allow DACA recipients and other undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children to become citizens. He has frequently held rallies in which he decried Trump’s demands for a border wall. At one such event, according to the Dallas Morning News, he said, “The cruelty that we’ve inflicted on these kids, though it was a decision of one person, one man, the president of the United States, it is now a stain that each of us carry.”
Taxes: O’Rouke voted against both the 2017 GOP tax overhaul and the 2015 Death Tax Repeal, which would have eliminated estate taxes. He differs greatly from candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in his naked embrace of capitalism. He recently told reporters, “I’m a capitalist. I don’t see how we’re able to meet any of the fundamental challenges that we have as a country without, in part, harnessing the power of the market.”
Gun control: Although O’Rourke is a born-and-raised Texan, he supports banning assault weapons, calling them “weapons of war.” He also supports universal background checks for all gun purchases. He participated in the 2016 House sit-in, wherein House Democrats demanded gun control legislation.
Health care: O’Rourke supports universal health care, and he has previously talked about creating a government-run system, or a single-payer option, similar to Bernie Sanders’s Medicare-for-All plan. That said, he hasn’t committed to any one path to universal health care, per The New York Times. He supported Medicaid expansion in Texas, and part of his Senate run included a proposal that would allow the government to negotiate with health insurance companies, bringing down the price of prescription drugs.
Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator from New York
Gillibrand committed to officially running last week. In her announcement video, she said that given the U.S.’s history of achievement, “We can definitely achieve universal health care, we can provide paid family leave for all, end gun violence, pass a Green New Deal, get money out of politics, and take back our democracy.”
Like many other elected officials, Gillibrand got her start as a lawyer, working for high-powered Manhattan firm before she got into electoral politics. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2006, representing the rather conservative 20th district in upstate New York and held that office until she was appointed to Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat in 2009 (vacated when Clinton became Secretary of State). In 2010, she won the special election to keep her seat and subsequently won her seat again in 2012 and 2018. Before she became a household name, she was known in New York for what the New York Times describes as a “relatively conservative voting record.” She has since become a loud progressive voice, often speaking out against the Trump administration.
Climate change: Gillibrand has a 95 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters. She supports the Green New Deal, having told Pod Save America, “I think we need a moonshot,” referring to the quick and radical change required of such a policy. She would also like to put a price on carbon, either in the form of a cap-and-trade (which would cap carbon emissions and the trade would allow companies to buy certain carbon emissions standards, incentivizing spending less by emitting fewer greenhouse gases) or a carbon tax.
LGBTQ rights: Despite the fact that she was initially elected in 2006 as a Blue Dog Democrat, Gillibrand has long been an advocate for LGBTQ rights. That said, her views have shifted over the years. Where she was initially supportive of legalizing civil unions in New York while leaving the legality of gay marriage up to states to decide, she voted to end employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity in 2007 and again in 2009, and when she was appointed Senator, she publicly opposed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act (which defines marriage as between one man and one woman). She opposes Trump’s trans military ban and will be bringing a transgender Navy Lieutenant Commander to this year’s State of the Union.
Immigration: We can see the biggest shift from Blue Dog Gillibrand to Progressive Gillibrand in her beliefs about and voting record on immigration. According to the New York Times, during her term as a Representative for a traditionally Republican district, she “opposed any sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants [sic], supported deputizing local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws, spoke out against Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposal to allow illegal immigrants [sic] to have driver’s licenses and sought to make English the official language of the United States.” But times have changed and the Senator has pivoted dramatically. Not only was she the first Senator to announce her support for abolishing ICE, she voted to protect sanctuary cities‘ federal grant money, and she supports a path to citizenship for DACA recipients. She has called Trump’s proposal for a wall “wasteful” and “ineffective” and was one of the Senators most vocal about family separations at the border.
Taxes: Gillibrand has endorsed a “Wall Street Tax” or a tax on financial transactions that occur on the stock market (the same tax proposed by Senator Sanders in 2016). Further, she supports taxing pharmaceutical companies on drug price hikes. She is also chief among elected officials to support making the U.S. Postal Service into a banking institution to curb predatory payday loans.
Gun control: When she represented New York’s 20th district, Gillibrand had an A-rating from the NRA. But upon her move to the Senate, she started voting against them 100 percent of the time, according to the lobbying group, earning her an F-rating. She has maintained that failing grade ever since. She supports ending the gun show loophole, expanding background checks, and an assault weapons ban.
Health care: Gillibrand is one of the many possible candidates who support Medicare-for-All. She was one of the co-sponsors of Senator Sanders’s 2017 bill. But unlike others in the running, she has backed single-payer since at least her first run for office in 2006, when she was elected to the House of Representatives.
Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington
Jay Inslee announced his official campaign for president on Friday, March 1. The first governor to announce his run in a sea of senators, Inslee’s campaign differs from others in one distinct way: he is running a single-issue campaign, laser-focused on tackling climate change. In his announcement video, he says, “We’re the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we’re the last that can do something about it.” That sentiment will be familiar to Washington residents, as it is something he has frequently asserted in the past few years as governor. Currently in his second term, Inslee will continue to hold his office while he campaigns in order to leave the door open to a third term should his presidential campaign fail. Before becoming governor, he was a Representative in both the U.S. and the Washington House of Representatives.
Climate change: In his campaign announcement, Inslee said that his core focus would be on tackling climate change: “We have an opportunity to transform our economy, run on 100 percent clean energy, that will bring millions of good paying jobs to every community across America, and create a more just future for everyone.” Inslee’s proposal is similar to the Green New Deal, which he has praised. He’s calling for an intersectional policy proposal and jobs package that would tackle key issues like income inequality, environmental justice, and greenhouse gas emissions in one sweeping package.
LGBTQ rights: Long before it was politically salient to do so, Inslee publicly supported gay marriage. Not civil unions or domestic partnerships or leaving-it-up-to-the-states, but full-blown gay marriage. In 2011, after he announced his candidacy for governor, he said as much at a campaign kick-off event. Inslee’s advocacy for the LGBTQ community has grown from there: in 2018, he signed into law a bill that banned gay conversion therapy. At the signing ceremony, he called conversion therapy a form of abuse. He also vowed to continue to offer protection from discrimination to trans kids after the Trump administration stripped federal protections.
Immigration: Early on in the Trump administration, Washington state became ground zero for resistance to the Muslim ban. Inslee called the ban “manifest and unjustifiable chaos and cruelty” and his AG subsequently sued over the order. But his pro-immigration stance goes beyond the Trump administration: though undocumented students in Washington have been eligible for in-state tuition since 2003, in 2014 Inslee signed the Washington State DREAM Act which made undocumented students eligible for state financial aid.
In 2017, Inslee signed an executive order banning the use of state funds to enact what he called “mean-spirited” federal immigration policies. Most recently, in June 2018, he signed an executive order giving emergency funding to nonprofits offering legal assistance to immigrants and refugees.
Taxes: While he has not released a presidential tax plan, Inslee did recently release his budget proposal for the state of Washington, which can give us some insight into his vision. One important thing to note: Washington has one of the most regressive tax systems in the country, lacking an income tax in a state that is home to multiple multibillion-dollar industries. He has proposed a 9 percent capital gains tax, an increase in certain business tax rates, and a reworking of the real estate excise tax to make it more progressive. These tax proposals, while not the same as an income tax, would put more of the tax burden on the high earners who populate Washington state (which is home to the likes of Microsoft and Amazon.) Further, his proposal includes more spending on education, including increasing the state financial aid budget, tackling climate change, and increasing funding for mental health services.
Gun control: Inslee is an outspoken gun control advocate and in fact lost his first seat in the House of Representatives when he voted for the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban. As Governor, he has called for restrictions on military-style assault weapons, and he oversaw legislation to raise the age for assault weapon purchase to 21 from 18. He also signed into law a voluntary gun buy-ban, which allows Washington residents to voluntarily give up their right to buy firearms.
Health care: In early February, Inslee tweeted, “Climate change isn’t more important than health care. It IS health care.” The governor has publicly supported universal health care in the past, and in fact, introduced legislation in January 2019 that would create a public option in the Washington state health care exchange. While it wouldn’t create a public health insurance agency, it would make the Inslee administration into a negotiator that would pick “at least one insurer to offer Obamacare exchange coverage for the entire state.” He called the legislation the “first step” on the way to universal health care.
Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont
Sanders announced on Vermont Public Radio on the morning of February 19 that he would, indeed, be running again for President in 2020, a welcome announcement for many. Though technically an Independent, Sanders frequently caucuses with the Democratic party and ran in the 2016 Democratic primary against Hillary Clinton. His 2016 bid for president helped radically change the face and platform of the Democratic party, marking a seismic shift to the left. This was welcome news for many who love the finger-wagging Senator.
Sanders’s 2016 Democratic Socialist platform, which included a $15 federal minimum wage, a college-for-all proposal, and single-payer healthcare has had a lasting effect on the Democratic Party as a whole. Reports claim that he’s preparing to address several missteps from his 2016 campaign in order to “ensure any new 2020 campaign is safer and stronger.”
Climate change: Sanders supports the Green New Deal. In his announcement video, he stated, “We need a president who understands that climate change is real, is an existential threat to our country and the entire planet, and that we can generate massive job creation by transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.”
That said, his GND platform will be slightly different, according to the Washington Post: his plan will include “significantly more” details about how the GND would work.
LGBTQ rights: According to Time, Sanders was “ahead of his time in supporting gay rights” as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont in the 1980s, and he was one of the few Democratic members of the House of Representatives who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in the 1990s and opposed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” While Sanders was late in catching up to fellow Vermont politicians (he began publicly supporting gay marriage in 2009), he has consistently been an advocate for the LGBTQ community, including calling out the Trump administration on the trans military ban, being one of the few politicians to tweet support for a bill banning housing discrimination against trans people, and even creating what the Daily Beast describes as a “trans mecca” in Burlington in the 1980s.
Immigration: Sanders has called the Trump administration “heartless” toward immigrants and supports a path to citizenship for DREAMers. He’s not, however, as far to the left as other candidates on this matter. In fact, he’s comparatively conservative. In 2007, he opposed a bipartisan immigration reform bill on the “grounds that it would have expanded low-wage guest-worker programs” according to The Atlantic. He described a call for open borders as a “Koch Brothers proposal,” referring to the infamous right-wing billionaire brothers who bankroll hyper-conservative politicians and policies.
Taxes: Sanders supports “heavy taxation of wealthy estates, corporations, the richest 1 percent of Americans and offshore tax havens” according to the Washington Post. His Medicare-for-All proposal would also require raising taxes on the middle class, though his aides argue that this will be a net gain for the middle class, as health care costs will fall greatly. Two more of his chief economic policies: raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, and cutting all student loan interest rates in half.
Gun control: Sanders supports passing an assault weapons ban, stating after the shooting in Parkland, Florida that semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 are “for killing human beings.” Sanders is actually one of the more gun-friendly Democratic senators, as Vermont is largely rural and is home to a substantial gun-owning population. He voted against the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which would have expanded background checks and extended the waiting period for gun purchases. But he has also voted against concealed carry reciprocity, which would allow concealed carry permit holders to bring their concealed carries over state lines, and in an interview with several student journalists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, he said he supports “commonsense gun legislation.”
Health care: One of Sanders’ main policy proposals in the 2016 primary—and one of the clearest marks he has left on the Democratic party—was Medicare-for-All, or, single-payer health care, which would entirely eliminate the privatized health care system. He has proposed legislation in the Senate several times over the years, and the most recent iteration of the bill has been cosponsored by or received public support from most of the other Democratic candidates running for president.
Aides say his plan would drive down costs for all Americans and provide free insurance for the approximately 30 million Americans who currently lack coverage.
Amy Klobuchar, Senator from Minnesota
Klobuchar, a thrice-elected senator, is the latest Democrat to confirm she’s running for President. On Sunday, February 10, Klobuchar announced her candidacy in the middle of a snowstorm — an appropriate setting for the born-and-raised Minnesotan. Before she was elected to Senate in 2006, Klobuchar was a corporate lawyer who got into politics in the 1990s when she was “kicked out” of the hospital only 24-hours after giving birth. After her experience, she successfully lobbied the Minnesota state legislature to guarantee at least 48 hours in the hospital for new moms — which later became federal law under then-President Bill Clinton.
Klobuchar became a public servant when she was elected Hennepin County attorney in 1998, a position she held until she was elected to Senate. She’s considered more moderate than other high-profile Democrats running: she votes with Trump 31.5 percent of the time, compared to, say, Elizabeth Warren, who votes with Trump 13.5 percent of the time.
Climate change: Klobuchar would not only rejoin the Paris climate agreement on her first day in office, she supports the recently released Green New Deal, per the Associated Press. She has a lifetime score of 95 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, and in 2008, she addressed the Senate about introducing a cap-and-trade market system (which puts an increasingly strict cap on emissions and allows companies to buy and sell carbon allowances, effectively incentivizing lower emissions) that would have cut emissions by 70 percent by 2050.
LGBTQ rights: In 2013, Klobuchar was one of 41 Senators to co-sponsor a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. She co-sponsored a 2013 bill to end employer discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and in 2018 she co-sponsored a bill to “end discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools” after the Trump administration rolled back Title IX protections for trans kids, and she has publicly come out against the trans military ban. She was endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign for her 2018 Senate re-election campaign.
Immigration: While Klobuchar does not support the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), she has said the immigration system needs sweeping reforms. In November 2018, she told George Stephanopoulos, “We have the will to put the money at the border for better security and combine it with some sensible reforms, including things like a path to citizenship, things like making sure we have workers on our fields and in our factories that we need.” She believes in a path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants, particularly DACA recipients. Further, she would increase legal immigration; she initially tried to increase the number of visas in 2013 as part of a bipartisan coalition attempting to reform the immigration system.
Taxes: The Minnesota Senator voted against the 2017 Republican tax overhaul, and throughout her career, she has consistently voted against tax cuts for the rich. Per the Washington Post, she has previously proposed expanding 529 savings accounts, qualified tuition savings plans meant to make saving for higher education easier, to cover more vocational and technical programs. In her candidacy announcement, she stated that she would close tax loopholes for wealthy Americans.
Gun control: At her campaign kickoff, Klobuchar, whose constituency in Minnesota has a 36.7 percent gun ownership rate — said she would advocate for “common sense gun laws.” She is a co-sponsor of the 2019 re-introduction of the Assault Weapons Ban. She supports expanding background checks to cover all gun sales, and she was endorsed by the Coalition to End Gun Violence during her 2018 re-election campaign.
Health care: Klobuchar does not support Senator Bernie Sanders’s Medicare-for-All bill. Instead, she says she supports universal coverage and would like to lower the age at which individuals could buy into Medicare to 55 (it’s currently set at 65-years-old).