Bernie Sanders announced on Tuesday that he will run for the White House a second time with a campaign that focuses on many of the same policies he championed the first time around, including a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for all and free college.
The longtime senator from Vermont attacked Donald Trump as he confirmed his candidacy on Vermont Public Radio, calling him “an embarrassment to our country” and said his ideas had moved into the mainstream since the 2016 election.
“We began the political revolution in the 2016 campaign and now it’s time to move that revolution forward,” he said.
The two-time presidential candidate is hoping to recapture the magic of his 2016 Democratic presidential primary campaign, which began as a long-shot but brought him close to victory — winning over 13m primary votes compared to the 17m won by Hillary Clinton and carrying 22 of the 50 US states.
Mr Sanders will face a very different race than he did in 2016. Instead of facing off against just one — somewhat unpopular — contender, this time he will need to take on upwards of a dozen candidates. However, supporters and aides said there were several factors about the current race that could work to Mr Sanders’ advantage.
While fellow senators such as Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand appear to be competing in the same lane of the party, Mr Sanders is just one of two far-left candidates in the race, alongside Elizabeth Warren, who has struggled to contain a backlash over her claims to Native American heritage.
Ben Tulchin, Mr Sanders’ pollster in 2016, said the self-described Democratic Socialist from Vermont could benefit from a wider field in which the preponderance of centrist candidates may prevent some from reaching above a certain ceiling.
“It’s not a binary race where you get all the anti-Hillary vote, but a lot of his supporters will stay with him, and a lot of his donors will stay with him,” Mr Tulchin said.
In his 2015 announcement speech, Mr Sanders vowed that he would not be a typical presidential candidate who could collect seven-figure cheques from rich donors and political action committees.
“We’re not going to raise $2bn, and we’re not going to raise $1bn. I do not have millionaire or billionaire friends,” he said.
Instead, Mr Sanders raised more than $229m, more than half of it coming from small donors giving $200 or less. That pre-existing campaign infrastructure and army of small donors would be a stepping stone for Mr Sanders in launching his next run, argued Chuck Rocha, a former adviser to the candidate.
Further proof of Mr Sanders’ potential was in the popularity of some of his key policy ideas, which were now being adopted by the other Democratic contenders, Mr Rocha added.
“Four years ago, we would have never dreamt of talking about ‘Medicare for all’ or a $15 minimum wage or a Green New Deal. Bernie Sanders’ campaign is what brought those issues to the forefront.”
A Morning Consult poll on February 12 found Mr Sanders to be in second place among likely Democratic primary and caucus voters, with 22 per cent of them saying they planned to vote for him compared to 29 per cent who said they would vote for former vice-president Joe Biden, who has not officially declared he is running.
Mr Sanders will have difficulties to overcome. The senator will be 79 by the time of the November 2020 vote — one year older than Joe Biden and five years older than Mr Trump. His 2016 campaign has faced multiple allegations of sexual harassment levelled against senior male staffers — something Mr Sanders says he was not aware of but for which he nevertheless apologised. Mr Sanders’ mixed record on gun control in the 1990s could also come under scrutiny, particularly following the Parkland school shooting last year and the March For Our Lives movement it spawned.
Still, supporters of Mr Sanders said in interviews they were more likely than not to support the senator in his second bid. One reason cited was that he was the most consistently progressive candidate in the race, a contrast from many of his 2020 opponents who have only moved further to the left in the past few years.
Jessica Frisco, a supporter of Mr Sanders who works at a non-profit organisation in New York, said she was disappointed by the Democratic establishment, which she accused of seizing on many of the same ideas that Mr Sanders had campaigned on in 2016, while still dismissing the candidate himself as fringe.
“They’re taking his ideas and they’re running with them as if all of a sudden ‘yes, this is a great idea’ we’ve always [supported]. But they keep ostracising him as a candidate,” she said.
Ms Frisco said that while Ms Warren shared many of Mr Sanders’ policy positions, her claims to Native American ancestry were a “big stain on her as a candidate and as a person”.
“I feel like Bernie doesn’t have any of that,” she said.
Tad Wolff, a San Diego small business owner who identifies as a fiscal conservative, said he was leaning towards Ms Warren because he wanted to see a woman president. But he added that any predictions that Mr Sanders’ former supporters would defect to the campaigns of more centrist candidates were overblown. Many, he said, still believed Mr Sanders was one of the best candidates to take on Mr Trump — just as he had been in 2016.
James Freerksen, a tutor in Des Moines, Iowa, said he believed Mr Sanders could pull off an upset in 2020, much the way that Mr Trump did in 2016.
“I think a lot of the way Democrats laughed at [the idea of] Trump winning, I think that could happen on the Republican side [with Bernie Sanders],” Mr Freerksen said. “And then come election day, they’re going to be going: how did this person become president of the United States?”