The challenges Democratic presidential candidates face in 2020

By Grace Segers

/ CBS News

This year has seen over 20 Democrats lining up to challenge President Trump in 2020. Mr. Trump did not win the popular vote in 2016, and his approval ratings have hovered around 40 percent during his two years in office. But Mr. Trump is not a weak candidate, and the Democrat who challenges him will face significant challenges inherent in running against an incumbent president.

CBS News' Ed O'Keefe joined CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett on this week's episode of "The Takeout" podcast to discuss the 2020 political landscape. O'Keefe noted that in 2016, Mr. Trump ended up winning several states that used to be failsafes for Democrats — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan — by very narrow margins.

O'Keefe said the "existential debate" for the Democrats now was to choose whether to focus on the states that they had narrowly lost, or the toss-ups that might be up for grabs, like Texas and Georgia.

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"I actually think ultimately they're going to have a more brutal argument over that than they are over the finer points of Medicare or environmental policy," O'Keefe said about the Democrats.

"Because it becomes an argument over which subgroups of American voters, basically, do we want to focus on more: white, blue-collar, distressed, feeling left behind voters in the industrial midwest or north; or, ascendant black, Latino, Asian, young people who have moved from the north or California into places like Arizona, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina," O'Keefe continued.

One major challenge the eventual Democratic candidate will face is challenging a president who has the momentum of incumbency. Fifteen of the last 20 incumbent presidents have been re-elected.

"That is why you've seen the RNC (Republican National Committee) over the last year or so, and they're intensifying those efforts now, running around the country shoring up all those little details about built-in support for the president out of concern that perhaps this one isn't as structurally advantaged as his predecessor," O'Keefe said.

Despite Mr. Trump's weaknesses, Democrats watching the campaign are wary.

"Democrats are terrified of him and convinced he can win," O'Keefe said about Mr. Trump.

The strength of the economy could also help Mr. Trump in the election.

"Unquestionably, the economy is in great shape. Either he's responsible for that, or at least he's responsible for not causing a huge demise," O'Keefe said.

For more of Major's conversation with Ed O'Keefe, download "The Takeout" podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, or Spotify. New episodes are available every Friday morning. Also, you can watch "The Takeout" on CBSN Friday at 5pm, 9pm, and 12am ET and Saturday at 1pm, 9pm, and 12am ET. For a full archive of "The Takeout" episodes, visit www.takeoutpodcast.com. And you can listen to "The Takeout" on select CBS News Radio affiliates (check your local listings).

Producers: Arden Farhi, Katiana Krawchenko, Jamie Benson and Sara Cook

First published on May 3, 2019 / 5:44 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Grace Segers

Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.

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