2020 Watch: 5 big questions as we enter presidential election year

ATLANTA (AP) — The presidential politics calendar turned to 2020 nearly a year ago. This week, the actual date catches up. What we’re watching as the preseason closes and election year opens:

Days to Iowa caucuses: 35

Days to general election: 309

The narrative

The ups, downs and swerves of 2019 yielded a stable top slate. Former Vice President Joe Biden leads most national polls of Democratic primary voters, with Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts within striking distance. Yet in the first caucus state of Iowa and the first primary state of New Hampshire, there’s a jumble of Biden, Sanders, Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. At first glance, it’s a clean choice: Biden and Buttigieg hail from the center-left; Warren and Sanders come from the progressive left. Reality is more layered. All four have weaknesses within Democrats’ diverse electorate; each makes a different case for carrying the banner against President Donald Trump, who is now impeached but a near certainty to survive a Senate trial. If that’s not enough indecision, several wildcards — including two billionaires — still hope to scramble the contest.

5 big questions

The final thought

Most voters are just tuning into a presidential race that’s raged for a year. They’ll find a Democratic contest featuring stark options on policy and personality, but lacking an undisputed favorite. Candidates are navigating primary politics: dancing along the progressive-liberal-moderate spectrum and carefully choosing when to go after each other. At the same time, Trump dominates the 2020 narrative, a fact demonstrated most recently as Biden spent two days talking about whether he’d testify in a Senate trial on Trump’s removal from office. It’s untidy enough for Trump’s reelection campaign to boast confidence and some Democrats to fret openly. History suggests, however, that all observers should respect the volatility. Indeed, incumbent presidents are difficult to beat. (Eight out of the last 11 who sought reelection won). But when they do lose, it’s nearly always to a challenger who emerged from the opposition party’s messy, even chaotic primary. Democrats’ chaos is just getting warmed up.