The Democratic race is in full swing, with votes in South Carolina on Saturday and then in over a dozen states including California on Super Tuesday, 3 March. Who are the key contenders as the race enters its next phase?

Bernie Sanders

Who:

Veteran socialist senator from Vermont and Democratic frontrunner who thinks his ship may finally have come in.

Strengths:

Huge army of passionate voters. Distinctive and consistent policy platform. Powerful momentum from success in first three contests of primary race.

Weaknesses:

Leftwing policies and “socialist” label may prove a bridge too far for many moderate Americans. Decades of outspoken affinity with leftwing causes is already being weaponised against him.

Key quote:

“Every other major country on Earth has achieved universal health care. This is the wealthiest nation in the world and there is no reason we cannot do the same.”

Key policies:

Universal public healthcare system and abolition of health insurance. Paid parental leave. Free college tuition. Support for radical Green New Deal to tackle climate change and create jobs.

Joe Biden

Who:

Personable former vice-president to Barack Obama whose shaky performance in the primary race has seen his lead disintegrate and his frontrunner status disappear.

Strengths:

Pundits thought his folksy manner, working-class roots and moderate policies would appeal to rust-belt voters won by Donald Trump in 2016.

Weaknesses:

Voters seemed less convinced after a series of muddled debates and gaffe-prone public appearances. Although many make the argument that “your uncle would vote for him”, it’s hard to find anyone actually excited about the prospect of President Biden.

Key quote:

“I ain’t a socialist, I ain’t a plutocrat, I’m a Democrat.”

Key policies:

“Public option” to compete with private health insurance. Green New Deal. Repealing capital punishment. Decriminalisation of cannabis.

Michael Bloomberg

Who:

Billionaire businessman and former New York mayor distrusted by many liberals who has steadily climbed in the polls thanks to big spending.

Strengths:

Limitless spending power. Centrist policies that may win over some Republicans. Record of business success that contrasts favorably with Trump’s.

Weaknesses:

Originally elected in New York as a Republican, Bloomberg is viewed by many liberals as a Democrat in name only and the kind of super-rich businessman they exist to rein in. Controversies over alleged sexist, racist and anti-trans remarks, a discriminatory policing policy known as “stop and frisk”, and the treatment of women at his business have not helped.

Key quote:

“Two billionaires [running]? Who’s the second one?”

Key policies:

Universal background checks for gun purchases, assault weapons ban and crackdown on gun trafficking. Net zero carbon emissions by 2050. “Public option” for healthcare.

Elizabeth Warren

Who:

Liberal Massachusetts senator and financial services expert who has been crowded out by Sanders and the moderates.

Strengths:

Less leftwing than Sanders, much less rightwing than Bloomberg, more experienced than Buttigieg, more convincing than Biden. Would be the first woman president.

Weaknesses:

Not as ideologically pure as Sanders, not as rich as Bloomberg, not as fresh as Buttigieg, less appeal in the heartland than Biden. Sexism is probably playing a role in dragging her down.

Key quote:

“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians. No, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”

Key policies:

Wealth tax on those worth more than $50m. Universal childcare. Relief of student loan debts. Supports the Green New Deal, public healthcare replacing health insurance and breaking up the big tech companies.

Pete Buttigieg

Who:

Small-town Indiana mayor who would be first gay president and needs to build on strong early start in Iowa or risk fading away.

Strengths:

Millennial military veteran who presents himself as the young and upbeat voice of moderation, compromise and national unity.

Weaknesses:

His main political experience comprises eight years as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a city of 100,000 people. As mayor he made enemies of many black voters – something that has hobbled him in the Democratic race. It remains to be seen how homophobia would affect his chances if he became the nominee.

Key quote:

“We need a president focused on the future and ready to leave the politics of the past in the past.”

Key policies:

Backs a publicly run health insurance scheme, background checks for gun-buyers, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and a moderate climate change plan.

Also running

Businessman Tom Steyer has poured money into South Carolina and is hoping for a strong showing there. Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar has had her moments but it’s hard to see where she goes from here. The quixotic Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard made the most impact when she sued Hillary Clinton for calling her a Russian asset.



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