Sen. Bernie Sanders started off the 2020 presidential campaign with a tangible leg up on his competition. After all, Sanders was coming off the 2016 election where he almost bested Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. He fell short, of course, but his campaign infrastructure and enthusiasm continued to hold on until the next time around when he would mount an even more serious effort to win the 2020 Democratic nomination.
Here we are, almost seven months since he announced his 2020 candidacy back on Feb. 23, and the self-proclaimed democratic socialist from Vermont is in a tight battle against a smorgasbord of Democratic competitors. This time around, Bernie isn’t the only one pushing an anti-establishment message of taxing the wealthy to expand massive social programs.
However, Bernie has stayed afloat, and as we reported previously, early state polls still give him a good shot to take Nevada, and even Iowa and New Hampshire are well within striking distance. Writing at CNN, analyst Harry Enten says Bernie shouldn’t be counted out of the race for the nomination even though he’s being somewhat ignored at this point in the campaign:
I’m not sure what chance Sanders has of winning the nomination, but the national and early state polling suggest Sanders shouldn’t be tossed aside as an afterthought. He remains a key player in this Democratic race.
Sanders is at 15% nationally in an average of debate qualifying polls over the last month. That may not seem like a lot, but it’s actually very close to Warren’s 18% average. Sanders actually runs slightly ahead of Warren in a number of polls, including one released by ABC News/Washington Post this past weekend, in which Sanders was at 19% and Warren was at 18%.
Importantly, Sanders isn’t dropping. His 15% in national polls is what he’s averaged basically all year with the exception of a post-announcement bump in March. Sanders is not like California Sen. Kamala Harris, who started in the single digits, rose after she announced, dropped, rose again after the first debate and then dropped a second time. Having 15% support is key because it means he’s at the threshold to receive delegates in primary contests.
There are a dozen other candidates who would pay anything to be in the position that Bernie is in right now. Holding his support nationally and having support in some early states showing he is winning or could win in several areas. He’s in an enviable position and has a solid floor of support, something that Sen. Kamala Harris has been totally unable to develop. He’s got Sen. Elizabeth Warren nipping at his heels and surpassing him in some polls, and, of course, he’s battling against Joe Biden for the direction of the party in 2020.
It’s a pivotal time for all the candidates, but for Bernie in particular, and some of his biggest supporters are starting to send up some alarm bells. Writing for Salon.com, Anis Shivani, a political author, and avid Bernie fan, is warning the Senator that he needs to stop making some basic mistakes and start to hone his campaign strategy or risk being pushed out.
After praising Bernie for what Shivani says are his biggest accomplishments: Pushing democratic socialism to the mainstream, ending Clintonism within the Democratic Party, and helping to push the entire Democratic field to the left on several issues – she presents a warning:
I am deeply worried that you have stayed mostly around or under 20 percent among the Democratic candidates. To some extent it’s because of the plethora of candidates running this time, part of the establishment strategy to drown out your voice. But it seems to me that there’s more to it than that. At the start of your campaign in the spring, I would have recommended three things, which right off the bat I noticed were missing in your strategy:
1. Don’t act like the frontrunner.
2. Attack the media.
3. Sharply differentiate yourself from the other “progressives.”
Basically Shivani’s argument comes down to Bernie being too comfortable with his campaign style, and too unaware of how strong the competition would be in 2020. He entered the 2020 campaign as a front runner since his name was still strong from 2016. That creates a sense of complacency that can hurt over time. He’s also not as aggressive in pushing back against the narratives that get spun about him being “too old” or “too liberal” to win a general election. Those points are certainly worth debating, but Bernie, in Shivani’s view, hasn’t done enough to combat them.
Perhaps, however, it’s Shivani’s third point that makes the most impact to where we are in the race today. A lot of Bernie’s platform has been usurped and regurgitated by other candidates, sometimes with a little more polish, or a little less socialism. How can Bernie, at this point, make the case that he and he alone is the true standard-bearer for this revolutionary change in the country? That’s going to be a hard sell, and it’s the hurdle that he has yet to clear when standing on stage with a slew of other candidates selling similar policy proposals.
As we noted in July, Bernie has started to sound as if he already won the battle, in his mind, by pushing the field closer to his policies. That’s not enough of a moral victory for his supporters, but it may be seen as a long-term political victory for his brand of left-wing politics being far more mainstreamed among his Democratic competitors.
Bernie has enthusiasm, just look at his recent campaign rally in Colorado. His supporters love him and want to vote for him, but will it be enough in a tight primary?
Back to the original article from Harry Enten on Sanders’ ability to win the 2020 Democratic primary. Enten further argues that Bernie has what many candidates lack, a base of support that stands by him on almost every issue::
Furthermore, Sanders’ backers like him for issue stances. In a year in which electability is taking precedence over issue agreement for many voters, Sanders is the only top tier candidate who does better among those who say issue agreement is more important to them than electability. That’s important because you can easily imagine someone changing their mind on who is most electable. It’s harder to imagine them switching if they are with a candidate because of the issues.
The good news for Bernie is that he has a solid base of support that loves him for his policy positions and his boldness in speaking them. It’s a base he would be hard-pressed to lose. With that foundation moving forward, Bernie stands as good a chance as any in drumming up a win for the 2020 Democratic nomination.