4 Dark Horse Democrats Who Could Run For President in 2016

ByMarshall Cohen

President Barack Obama’s second term is only six months underway, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start thinking about the 2016 presidential election. Here we break down the lesser-known potential Democratic candidates. You can find our analysis of the lesser-known Republicans who might throw their hat in the presidential ring over here.

Much of the 2016 speculation on the Democratic side centers on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She enjoys sky-high favorability ratings and holds commanding leads against other hopefuls, according to early polls. Still, politics can be anyone’s game and plenty of ambitious Democrats are eyeing the chance to run in 2016.

1. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

Gillibrand can be soft-spoken, but she has emerged as a rising star in the Democratic Party since her appointment to fill Clinton’s vacant Senate seat in 2009. She went on to easily win a full term and was re-elected last year with 72% of the vote. With an easy race in New York, she focused on helping other women candidates and raised $1 million for the cause through her political action committee. Her efforts helped elect a record number of women to Congress. She recently raised her public profile by taking on the issue of sexual assaults in the military. If Clinton doesn’t run, Gillibrand will be the candidate of choice for many Democrats eager to see a woman elected to the presidency. 

2. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley

O’Malley has been anything but coy about his presidential ambitions, hinting at a run as early as last year. The two-term Maryland governor, who also served as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, has been busy as of late. He signed a slew of progressive bills into law this year, enacting strict gun controls, legalizing marijuana, repealing the death penalty, and allowing undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses. And the cherry on top for Democratic primary voters? Same-sex marriage in Maryland is now legal. O’Malley looks great on paper — and in person too, at the ripe age of 50 — but his candidacy will live in the shadow of higher-profile candidates. No matter how many Sunday shows he goes on, voters still don’t seem to recognize him.

3. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

Presidential speculation has dogged Warner for years — many thought he would run in 2008 after completing his term as governor of Virginia. Instead, he ran for Senate and trounced his opponent in a banner year for Democrats. These days, he enjoys strong approval ratings at a time when most Americans view Congress as less popular than a root canal. In the Senate, Warner has positioned himself as a moderate: He supported key parts of the Obama agenda but also sided with Republicans on business issues. This could spell trouble with the Democratic primary electorate, and as a candidate who can easily carry the state of Virginia, Warner is more appealing as a vice presidential candidate.

4. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)

Klobuchar says she is content with her current job, but that didn’t stop her from meeting with the Iowa delegation at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. The first woman senator from Minnesota, she has established a solid electoral base that has remained loyal over the years. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was elected in 2008 by the skin of his teeth, but Klobuchar effectively cleared the field in 2012 and won with 65 percent of the vote. She also recently fought to prevent Stafford loan rates from increasing. Even though her efforts were unsuccessful, her enthusiasm on the issue plays well with college-age voters who turn out in droves for Democratic candidates. Many insiders say the witty senator could have a future in national politics if she wants it and if the time is right.