Democrats need to focus on issues to win wide-open Presidential race
With the US Presidential election due to take place 10 months from now, a fierce contest is underway to become the Democratic challenger to Donald Trump.
It is a battle royale that could well go down to the wire, with at least four candidates out of a field of 12 thought to have a genuine chance of getting the nod for the inevitable titanic scrap with the Republican incumbent.
Political commentators claim the race is mission critical for the Democrats, with the party desperate to move on from Hillary Clinton's defeat in 2016 by depriving Mr Trump of a second term in office.
Scott Lucas, a professor of international relations at the University of Birmingham, believes there are a handful of potential Democratic nominees who have a genuine shout of beating Mr Trump, as long as they don't attempt to play him at his own game.
They include former vice president Joe Biden, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, and military veteran Pete Buttigieg.
"None of them are head and shoulders above the others," Mr Lucas said. "But they could all defeat Trump – providing the Presidential campaign involves a discussion of issues and is not just all about the spectacle.
"To win, they need to make the argument for a decent politics, a politics of dialogue, a politics of respect and tolerance.
"There's a view that the Democrats need a certain colourfulness to go against this reality TV star Trump. I would argue that is the last thing that is needed.
"People actually want some sense and sensibility in US politics and that's what the Democrats need to aim for."
Mr Lucas says the high number of contenders means the party may not have its final candidate until summer, although it is entirely possible that an outright winner could emerge before then.
The race itself starts in earnest at the start of February with the Iowa caucases, essentially a series of town hall meetings across the state where candidates aim to pick up votes from delegates.
It continues through a series of primaries and other caucuses until June, with a majority of the estimated 3,979 pledged delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination on the first ballot.
The Democratic Party will nominate a 2020 Presidential candidate at its convention in Milwaukee in July.
Of the main candidates, Mr Sanders – who lost out to Clinton in 2016 – is considered progressive and anti-establishment, but faces a battle to appeal to voters in the centre.
Mr Buttigieg, the baby of the bunch at 37, has positioned himself as a voice for youth and would become the first Presidential nominee in a same sex relationship.
He is considered a skilled debater and a moderate Democrat, but lacks appeal among black voters.
As Barack Obama's former running mate, Mr Biden has the experience. However, he is widely seen as being out of touch and carries the downside as well as the upside of the Obama years.
Mrs Warren meanwhile, has detailed policies and is seen as an effective communicator, although she is still mostly remembered for her attempt to prove she had Native American ancestry through a DNA test.
There's also a latecomer to the race in the form of billionaire former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who appears to be pushing all of his resources into 'Super Tuesday' on March 3, when 14 states cast their votes on the same day.
The race is taking place against a backdrop of Mr Trump's impeachment trial, which is expected to run until mid-February and as a result will have a direct impact on Democratic challengers such as Mr Warren, Mr Sanders and Amy Klobuchar, who as sitting senators will all be involved.
Looking ahead to the Presidential election, which takes place on November 3, Mr Lucas said he expects Mr Trump to go through as the Republican candidate "on the nod".
But he believes that in order to win a second term, the President will need to move on from the "all out attack" policies against the political establishment that worked so well for him four years ago.
"It won't work this time, because when you have been president for four years you are the establishment," he said.
"His challenge is to reach voters who as things stand, do not approve of what he is doing. He has to give them something more and will attempt to show that he has built something.
"We won't see too much debate on policy from the Trump side. There will be a lot of myth and illusion, but that can pay off if enough people buy into it."
Mr Lucas said he expects the Republicans to gamble on winning on a minority vote as they did in 2016, targeting key states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
He said: "The Democrats will win big in California and New York, but a few big ones don't get you the presidency, it's a lot of small ones where you win by a few thousand votes in key states."
While Mr Trump is campaigning under the 'Keep America Great' slogan and will push the economy as his major success, Mr Lucas says that whoever wins the Democratic nomination faces a battle to heal the country's "badly damaged" political system.
"This election is as much a test of politics in the US as it is the candidates," he says.
"Are Americans able to get beyond an attack-focused, divisive politics, and try to pull together at this crucial moment in the country's history, or do they go further down the road of attack and division?"