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J.Scott Applewhite / AP

A quiet but consequential battle for staff and cash has begun among ambitious Democrats with their eyes on the 2020 presidential race. The party is likely to start with a bigger field — perhaps much bigger — than the unwieldy Republican batch that produced Donald Trump as the nominee.

  • Our conversations with well-wired Democrats produced a list of three dozen names that range from possible to plausible to probable. Other potential candidates seem certain to emerge, based on who looks strong after the 2018 midterms.
  • Several have begun to actively talk to potential staff members, and a few more have put out feelers, according to Democrats familiar with the conversations.
  • It's of course unlikely that whoever we're buzzing about 1,159 days before the election ("Bullish on Bullock!") will be the correct answer.

Breaking the potential candidates into formal tiers at this point would be silly. But here are groupings that emerged with our conversations with veterans of past Democratic presidential campaigns, as well as younger operatives likely to be involved in the 2020 campaign:

  • Watched most closely: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.), New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
  • The classics: Joe Biden, John Kerry, Al Gore, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.
  • Outsiders: New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper
  • Has begun seeking staff: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.), Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio).
  • Many in Obamaworld like: former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Rep. Seth Moulton (Mass), former Missouri SecState Jason Kander.
  • Many in Clintonworld like: Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, former Ag Secretary and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro.
  • Possible if wins reelection: Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio).
  • Wants to be mentioned: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.).
  • Wild cards: Sen. Al Franken (Minn.), Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Rep. John Delaney (Md.).
  • Non-politicians: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Cuban, The Rock, Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz, Disney CEO Bob Iger, Oprah, George Clooney.
  • Someone Trump would have no idea what to do with, and who'd win women with authenticity and Southern charm: Sally Yates, the acting attorney general fired by Trump.

Be smart: A huge challenge for Democrats is that the energy, action and money are on the left (the Warren-Sanders wing). But winning in 2020 will require winning over working-class, more centrist voters who helped put Trump in office. Anybody who doesn't spend their weekdays in Washington is likely to have an advantage, so watch the governors and others who can run as outsiders against the incumbent GOP.

  • Who'd we miss? In Axios AM, we'll periodically update this list and refine the categories. If you know someone who has begun working it, or have an idea about a candidate who'd be strong, shoot me a note at mike@axios.com. We'll share the most worthy thoughts in AM.
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Go deeper

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