Democrats bracing for a brutal midterm election instead got a big surprise: Democratic candidates performed much more strongly than many had expected.
The result will likely be one of the strongest performances for a president’s party in a midterm election in history.
All of that is very good news for President Biden, who emerges in a stronger position to run for reelection.
Here’s a list of the most likely Democrats to run and win the nomination — our first ranking of potential candidates since the midterms.
Biden listens to a speech from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen during the ASEAN – U.S. summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia Nov. 12, 2022.
The Democrat with the strongest chance of winning his party’s nomination is clearly Biden.
This likely would have been true even with an average or subpar performance by his party.
He is the sitting president, and sitting presidents are generally nominated by their parties for reelection.
But there have been doubts about Biden running again given his age and his popularity.
Biden will turn 80 next year, and his approval ratings have been consistently underwater for much of the year.
Heading into the midterms, he was seen as a drag on many Democrats, and he did not spend a lot of time in some battleground states and districts.
But Biden and Democrats avoided the “red wave” that many pundits and strategists predicted, resulting in the president having one of the strongest weeks of his presidency yet.
The midterm results so far have given him some much-needed pep in his step.
“His prospects for 2024 are probably the best they’ve been throughout his presidency,” one Democratic strategist said. “He can make the argument that voters largely agree with him and his brand of politics, and he’s not wrong.”
Asked this week whether the midterm results boosted his case for reelection, Biden said his “intention” is to run again.
“But I’m a great respecter of fate, and this is ultimately a family decision,” he said at a news conference at the White House on Wednesday.
Some Democrats still aren’t convinced he’s the right guy for 2024.
Exit polls showed that two-thirds of voters don’t want him to run for reelection.
Biden has made the case that if former President Trump is the GOP nominee, he can beat him again.
“Watch me,” he said on Wednesday after a reporter asked what his message is to those who don’t want him to run again.
There are also Democrats who think Biden could be vulnerable to another potential GOP challenger: Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who walloped Democratic candidate Charlie Crist by nearly 20 points this week and almost instantly captured the zeitgeist as the GOP’s hottest star.
“They have to be worried about going up against someone like DeSantis,” said a former White House aide to President Obama. “How could they not be?”
Biden said this week that he’ll make a decision on a reelection bid by early next year.
Vice President Harris
Harris speaks at Howard Theatre in Washington on Nov. 10, 2022.
Without fail, the vice president’s name comes up first when Biden’s name is taken out of the running.
While Harris had a rocky start as vice president and continues to garner low approval ratings, Democrats say she would still be the go-to if Biden decided not to run again.
Like Biden, Harris benefits from the results of the midterms, strategists say. But at the same time, others continue to worry she hasn’t had a strong enough portfolio and platform as vice president.
“I think if she ran, she would be challenged by other Democrats,” one strategist said. “There are lots of people who still think she wouldn’t beat a Trump or DeSantis.”
Still, Harris is clearly the favorite to be the Democratic standard-bearer after Biden, and the midterm results only strengthened her.
Buttigieg waves as he leaves a canvass kickoff event for Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., on Nov. 6, 2022, in Manchester, N.H.
The Transportation Secretary got a lot of face time with voters as he crisscrossed the country to stump for candidates during the midterms.
In fact, he was one of the most requested surrogates on the trail, according to CNN.
One Democratic strategist explained that while Biden and Harris have suffered publicly with low approval ratings, Buttigieg has been able to “stay above the fray.”
“He got to appear in front of voters and take some credit for all the movement on infrastructure happening in communities all over the country,” one strategist said. “Win-win for him.”
Buttigieg is a rising Democratic star and has had a solid two years in the administration.
But if Biden were to pass on a second term, it may be difficult for him to usurp Harris as the administration favorite.
Whitmer speaks during Election Night on Nov. 8, 2022 in Detroit.
The Michigan governor had one of the best election nights of anyone in the midterms.
Not only did she win by double-digits against a rival endorsed by Trump, but her state turned completely blue, with Democrats now controlling all three branches of state government.
Whitmer has been a little lower on The Hill’s previous lists, but she emerges from the midterms in a stronger position.
Whitmer was a finalist to be Biden’s running mate in 2020 and Democrats say her star is rising more than most in her party.
“She was a rising star in 2020 but even more so now,” one Democratic consultant said.
Newsom urges voters to turn out and vote YES on Proposition 1 at a rally at Long Beach City College in Long Beach, Calif., on Nov. 6, 2022.
The California governor seems to have something in common with DeSantis: He campaigned on “freedom” in his state during the election, and it seemed to pay off big, leading him to another gubernatorial victory on Tuesday.
Newsom has caught the attention of Democrats this year mostly for proactively taking DeSantis and other Republicans to task.
In September, he paid for billboards in conservative states including Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Indiana to highlight the point that abortion is still legal in his state.
“He’s perceived as strong and he’s done well keeping his name in the press,” the first strategist said. “Keeping your name out there is half the battle.”