Every four years, candidates compete to become a political party's presidential nominee. The U.S. has two major parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. But candidates can run as a “third party” candidate, like the Green Party. The candidate who wins their party’s primary will then face off against the other parties’ winners in a general election in November. This year, the Republican party already has its candidate: Donald J. Trump. So that’s done. The Democratic Party, however, has to choose which of the many, many people running will face him in November of 2020. Here’s who they are.
In a primary election, voters choose which candidate they want to win the party’s nomination. Each state holds their own primary or caucus on different days early in the election year. Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada go first in February. That’s why so many candidates spend a lot of time there. Find out how to vote in your primary here. Whoever gets the most votes in each state will earn the votes of that state’s delegates at the party’s nominating convention.
When you vote in your primary, you’re actually telling the delegates (party activists, local officials, regular people) in your state to vote for your choice. Each state gets a certain number of delegates who are supposed to vote for the candidate who won their state. There are about 3,979 delegates, and a candidate needs a majority – at least 1,990 delegates – to win the nomination. For Democrats, that vote will happen at the Democratic National Convention between July 13-16, 2020. If no one gets more than 1,990 on the first vote, it becomes a “contested convention” and a second vote must be held. About 766 new delegates (or “superdelegates” – former presidents, Members of Congress, party leaders) will then be invited to participate to help give one candidate a majority.
After the party conventions, we enter what is called the thunderdome general election. The Democratic nominee and Donald Trump (and potential third-party nominees) will debate, launch ads, organize voters, and cross fingers in hopes of winning on November 3rd. But it’s not enough to win over the majority of voters (or what’s known as the popular vote), they must win the electoral college to become president.
The Republican Incumbent
The Democratic Challenger
The Electoral College
Ah yes, the electoral college. Not an institution of higher learning, but a devilish, constitutional requirement to elect a president. The Founders viewed this as a compromise between electing a president by popular vote and only allowing Congress to choose who wins.
How It Works
The electoral college consists of 538 electors, or people who vote on which candidate should be president. Each state gets one elector for each member of the U.S. House of Representatives plus two for its U.S. Senators. The bigger the state, the more votes. For almost every state, the electors give their votes to whichever candidate wins the most votes within the states. Maine and Nebraska are the only two states that can split their electoral votes. And great question: no it shouldn’t be this complicated!
To win the presidency, the nominee has to earn 270 electoral votes, and winning the most populous states like California and New York isn’t enough to win the presidency. It takes a patchwork of states from all across the country to reach 270, which is why a lot of presidential elections come down to a few states where the contest is very close, also known as battleground states or swing states. These are the states we’re paying special attention to in 2020. More on that later.