The next phase of the 2020 Democratic primary is about to begin.
While a minor candidate or two may still jump in, the field is now largely set with Joe Biden’s announcement on Thursday that he will run for president.
Those who beat the former vice president to the punch have spent the last few months introducing themselves to voters in the early-voting states, making the rounds with the media, hiring staff and raising money.
Now the pressure will start ramping up on the White House hopefuls as they search for ways to distinguish themselves in a crowded and competitive field of candidates, aiming to convince voters that they are the best positioned to take on President Donald Trump next year.
“Being able to show you’re a good fundraiser, have a strong media strategy, and also having a strong team you’re able to pay for in a number of states is quite a trick,” said Sean Bagniewski, the chairman of the Polk County, Iowa Democrats.
Only a handful of candidates will be able to pull that off. They will have plenty of opportunities to prove they can do so in the coming months with major fundraising deadlines, debates and cattle calls on the horizon. Here’s what to watch for:
Voters in the early states will have the opportunity to see many of the candidates together at the so-called “cattle calls” organized by the local parties and politicians in the coming weeks.
These events will not only be important for campaigns to win more support, but to demonstrate their organizing capabilities, which will be especially crucial in caucus states like Iowa.
This Saturday, six of the candidates will head to Las Vegas for a forum sponsored by the Service Employees International Union and the Center for American Progress.
On June 9, the Iowa Democratic Party will host its annual “Hall of Fame Celebration” in Cedar Rapids, which is expected to draw at least a half-dozen candidates.
Two weeks later, the biggest weekend on the calendar for South Carolina Democratic politics takes place. Rep. Jim Clyburn is set to host his yearly fish fry, which has long been a go-to event for White House hopefuls, on June 21. (Clyburn has said he won’t endorse a candidate until closer to the Feb. 29 primary, if at all.) The state Democratic Party will host a fundraising dinner that night and its convention the next day.
The Iowa State Fair, Aug. 8-18, is where past presidential candidates have shared fried food and beer with caucus-goers. And on Aug. 9, a collection of county parties will host its annual Iowa Democratic Wing Ding fundraiser, which is typically one of the more lively events on the road to the White House.
The New Hampshire Democratic Party is scheduled to have its convention on Sept. 7.
Back in Iowa, the Polk County Democratic Party will hold the annual Steak Fry on Sept. 28, an event that former Sen. Tom Harkin had hosted for nearly 40 years before retiring in 2015.
And in early November, the Iowa Democratic Party will host its Fall Dinner, previously called the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. Barack Obama famously had a breakout moment at this event in 2007 before going on to win the Iowa caucuses.
The Democratic candidates will appear on the same stage together for the first time in June at the first presidential debate in Miami. The second will take place in July in Detroit.
With nearly 20 serious candidates in the race, the field will be split into two groups over two nights at both debates. The Miami debate, which will air on NBC, will occur June 26 and 27. And the Detroit debate, scheduled for July 30 and 31, will air on CNN.
The Democratic National Committee hasn’t specified how they will split the field up. But there are two ways to qualify for the first two debates.
One is through polling. Candidates must hit the one-percent mark in at least three national or early-state surveys. If they don’t meet that requirement, candidates must have at least 65,000 unique donors and a minimum of 200 unique donors in at least 20 states to make the debate stage. Most of the notable contenders appear to be on track to meet at least one of those requirements.
The 2020 primary race has been a largely positive one thus far. But to break out, the candidates will need to start contrasting themselves with their rivals, and the first debates will provide a critical chance to do so.
Four other debates are set to take place in the fall, but the DNC has yet to outline the dates or qualifying criteria for those.
Campaign finance reports provide one of the few tangible metrics of each of the candidates’ strengths in the early stages of the campaign. In the first three months of the year, Bernie Sanders led the Democratic field in the money race, followed by Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke.
Since Biden wasn’t a candidate at the time, the public won’t get its first look at his financial operation until the second-quarter deadline on July 15. The filings that are due that day to the Federal Election Commission will also provide a window into whether his opponents have been able to maintain their level of support since launching their campaigns.
Many of the Democratic hopefuls have put an emphasis on raising funds from small donors as a way to highlight their grassroots support, swearing off cash from corporate PACs and federal lobbyists. Elizabeth Warren has even gone as far as refusing to attend high-dollar fundraisers.
The next big fundraising deadline this year is on October 15, which will further separate the serious contenders from the rest of the pack.