AP

Bernie Sanders Finds Himself In A New Role As Front-Runner

Apr 8, 2019, 8:11 AM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 5:11 pm

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a rally at the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center on April 06, 2019 in Fairfield, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(I-VT)

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is quieting critics who questioned whether he could recapture the energy of his upstart 2016 campaign, surpassing his rivals in early fundraising and establishing himself as an indisputable front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Less than two months into his second White House bid , no other declared candidate in the crowded Democratic field currently has amassed so many advantages: a $28 million war chest, a loyal and enthusiastic voter base and a set of clearly defined policy objectives.

That puts Sanders on markedly different footing than during his first White House run, creating new challenges for a candidate whose supporters relish his role as an underdog and an outsider. He now carries the weight of high expectations and will face heightened scrutiny over everything from the cost and feasibility of his government-funded policy proposals to his tax returns, which he has not yet released. He initially blamed “mechanical issues” for the delay, and his campaign now says he wants to wait until after the April 15 tax filing deadline to fulfill his promise to release a decade worth of returns .

Sanders has largely embraced his new front-runner status. More than any other candidate, he draws explicit comparisons with President Donald Trump in his campaign remarks, previewing his approach to a general election faceoff with the incumbent Republican. Behind the scenes, Sanders is also building out a larger, more diverse campaign operation, responding to criticism that his 2016 organization skewed too heavily white and male. Campaign officials say the 2020 campaign staff — roughly 100 people and growing — is majority female and 40 percent people of color.

Still, Sanders’ message and style hasn’t changed from 2016, when he stunned many Democrats by mounting a formidable challenge to Hillary Clinton and besting her in more than 20 primary contests.

After briefly acquiescing to his advisers’ suggestions that he reveal more about his upbringing and personal history, Sanders has returned to his comfort zone: delivering lengthy campaign speeches chockablock with the same policy prescriptions he campaigned on during the 2016 campaign. In Davenport, Iowa, on Friday night, Sanders spent 63 minutes outlining his views on health care, criminal justice reform and economic inequality.

“With your help, we are going to complete what we started here,” Sanders told the 1,200-person crowd, referring to his virtual tie with Clinton in the 2016 Iowa caucuses.

Sanders’ approach underscores his belief that his success in 2016 was not a fluke or simply a function of being the next best alternative to Clinton. His advisers argue the populist economic message Sanders has espoused for years, often in obscurity, has now been embraced not only by a slew of his Democratic rivals, but also Trump.

“Donald Trump campaigned on economic terms as faux Bernie Sanders. It was taking his language and selling it to the American people,” said Faiz Shakir, Sanders’ campaign manager. “And now how do you defeat faux Bernie Sanders? You defeat him with real Bernie Sanders.”

Sanders owes some of his fast start to the fact that he never really stopped running for president after the 2016 campaign. Our Revolution, the political group Sanders launched after the campaign, has collected information on voters and held events in early voting states since the last election. Sanders was also active in the 2018 midterms, throwing his support behind progressive Democratic candidates across the country, though many were defeated.

“He spent 2018 lifting up progressives all over the country,” said Rebecca Katz, a progressive Democratic consultant. “Even though many of them did not win, it was appreciated, it was movement building and it was a different calculation than most politicians make.”

Despite his strong launch, Sanders’ current standing atop the Democratic field is not entirely enviable. Presidential primaries are long and turbulent, and past elections underscore how many early front-runners have been tossed aside before the first votes are cast. Former Vice President Joe Biden has signaled his expected presidential campaign would serve as a centrist check on Sanders’ brand of progressive politics.

And though Sanders’ $18 million first-quarter fundraising haul far outpaced the rest of the Democratic field, some rival campaigns breathed a sigh of relief, having anticipated the Vermont senator would clear $20 million or more.

“He did very well. He could have done better,” said Mo Elleithee, who advised Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and now runs the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service.

Sanders also still has to prove that he can overcome some of the same vulnerabilities that contributed to his defeat in 2016.

Chief among them will be bolstering his standing with black voters, one of the most important constituencies in Democratic politics. Black voters overwhelmingly sided with Clinton in 2016, halting Sanders’ momentum when the contest moved into more diverse states. He lost the South Carolina primary by a staggering 48 points.

Some of Sanders’ top advisers dismiss the notion that he’ll face similar problems in 2020, noting that he has spent time building relationships with black leaders in South Carolina and other Southern states. He’s also sharpened his campaign message on criminal justice issues and racial inequality.

“I understand that a lot of people took a lot of things out of the South Carolina results,” Shakir said. “We are going to continue to court and address these issues directly, but we are operating with a great deal of confidence that this is going to be a particular demographic that supports Bernie Sanders at the end of the day.”

Perhaps Sanders’ biggest challenge is overcoming skepticism among voters who may be partial to his focus on economic inequality but fear that nominating a 77-year-old self-described democratic socialist would put Democrats in a weak position against Trump in the general election.

“That’s a thing that scares me about him,” said Gwen Hobson, a 70-year-old Democratic voter, who attended Sanders’ rally on Friday in Davenport.

Yet some of Sanders’ longtime supporters say their enthusiasm for him is unshakable. In Davenport on Friday, several voters donned faded t-shirts from Sanders’ 2016 campaign. Melita Tunnicliff, 57, wore a button she bought during that campaign with Sanders’ photo and the phrase “Not For Sale.”

Asked if she was open to other Democratic candidates this time around, Tunnicliff shook her head no.

“I’ve been waiting for Bernie,” she said.

___

Follow Juana Summers at http://twitter.com/jmsummers and Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

KSL 5 TV Live

AP

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule with a crew of four on a mission to the International S...

Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer

4 new astronauts head to the International Space Station for a 6-month stay

SpaceX has launched four astronauts to the International Space Station who will oversee the arrival of two new rocket ships during their stint.

2 hours ago

Louisville emergency crews rescue the driver of semitruck that is dangling off the Clark Memorial B...

Associated Press

Truck driver pulled to safety after crash leaves vehicle dangling over bridge across Ohio River

The driver of a semi-truck was pulled to safety Friday by firefighters following a crash that left the vehicle dangling over a bridge across the Ohio River.

5 hours ago

FILE - Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures at a campaign rally...

Mark Sherman

Supreme Court restores Trump to ballot, rejecting state attempts to ban him over Capitol attack

The Supreme Court has restored Donald Trump to 2024 presidential primary ballots, rejecting state attempts to hold the Republican former president accountable for the Capitol riot.

6 hours ago

FILE: A JetBlue Airlines plane takes off near Spirit Airlines planes at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywo...

Michelle Chapman, AP Business Writer

JetBlue, Spirit ending $3.8B deal to combine after court ruling blocked their merger

JetBlue and Spirit Airlines are ending their proposed $3.8 billion combination after a court ruling blocked their merger.

7 hours ago

An Interstate 80 entrance is covered in snow during a powerful multiple day winter storm in the Sie...

Brooke Hess and Christopher Weber

More mountain snow expected even as powerful blizzard moves out of Northern California

A powerful blizzard that closed highways and ski resorts had mostly moved through the Sierra Nevada but forecasters warn that more snow was on the way for Northern California mountains.

8 hours ago

Tia Champion and her husband Tim help Angie Hodges (L) search for items in the remains of her home ...

Valerie Gonzalez

Texas struggles to contain wildfires as wind threatens to further their spread

Strong winds spread flames and led to a town's evacuation while airplanes dropped fire retardant in an attempt to stop the largest wildfire in Texas history.

8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Bernie Sanders Finds Himself In A New Role As Front-Runner