Analysis: Sanders may not need 2016 magic to be 2020 force

Published 7:48 am Thursday, February 21, 2019

NEW YORK — Can Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders recapture the magic that fueled his first presidential campaign?

To win the nomination, he may not need to.

As Sanders, a 77-year-old self-described democratic socialist, formally launches his 2020 campaign, the lessons of President Donald Trump’s victory in the GOP’s packed 2016 contest loom large.

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With better-established Republican contenders dividing the GOP primary vote that year, Trump began racking up primary victories with 30 to 40 percent of each state’s vote. He captured his party’s nomination even as six or seven of every 10 primary voters backed another Republican candidate.

Sanders’ team is betting that the bar for victory in the more-crowded 2020 Democratic field could be even lower. That simple math — and an extraordinary small-dollar fundraising operation — suggests that Sanders is poised to maintain his status as a political force in 2020 whether most of his party wants him to or not.

Sanders is showing no desire to change his approach to broaden his appeal, as is sometimes the case with ambitious second-time candidates. Nina Turner, president of Our Revolution, the political arm of Sanders’ expansive network, said the 2020 campaign “is really about him finishing what he started.”

In a political world in which windows of opportunity rarely stay open long, it’s possible that Sanders’ moment may have passed.

In 2016, he was the sole option for anti-establishment Democrats who didn’t support Hillary Clinton. Today, Democrats are sorting through a far more diverse field that could ultimately exceed two dozen high-profile contenders. Many of them — and there are exceptions — have adopted Sanders’ far-left policy priorities and anti-establishment rhetoric.