Much of the early 2020 conventional wisdom has gravitated toward the notion that in a crowded field of relative up-and-comers, Bernie Sanders may be relegated to the role of 'has-been'. Even if another seventy-something political veteran jumps into the race -- more on Joe Biden in a moment -- a lot of the analysis I've read posits that Biden would have a fairly wide 'center-left' lane to potentially dominate, whereas Sanders could get squeezed out. He's old news, the theory goes, and could struggle to lastingly compete with a bevy of fresher faces on the party's harder left flank. But does the evidence bear that out at this stage?
Let's concede two points: First, Bernie's name recognition is a major asset at the onset of a lengthy campaign, and that residual advantage could very well fade. Second, he's facing a tougher and more diverse field this cycle, a far cry from what amounted to a prolonged one-on-one shot at a fatally flawed candidate in 2016. All that being said, and acknowledging that we're a political eternity away from a single ballot being cast, it's hard to argue that the Sanders campaign is anything other than a powerful and viable force in the 2020 landscape. Keep in mind that in spite of his policy extremism, Bernie is a surprisingly popular political figure among the broader electorate. Beyond that, he's got a sprawling grassroots army of hardcore supporters, a giant email list, and a wildly successful small-dollar fundraising operation. According to four recent polls, including data from two crucial early states (in which momentum can build and narratives can congeal) Sanders is unmistakable a top-tier candidate. Here are two new snapshots, one national and one from Iowa:
If you were looking for confirmation that Sanders is clearly up in the polling, this weekend's Iowa poll and this Monmouth national poll certainly do the trick... A 9 point jump for Sanders over the last 1.5 months. Biden still leads. pic.twitter.com/KXs4GxX1BQ— (((Harry Enten))) (@ForecasterEnten) March 11, 2019
First Iowa poll in ages just dropped. From Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom:— Gabriel Debenedetti (@gdebenedetti) March 10, 2019
The DMR/CNN poll suggests that many Democratic caucus-goers, though not necessarily sold on nominating an older white man (quite a few voters believe both Biden and Sanders' time 'has passed'), don't seem especially interested in moderation: More than 90 percent want a candidate who supports the "Green New Deal," and nearly as many favor both single-payer healthcare and a new wealth tax. One wonders how moderate the "moderate" lane will be. There's also the small detail that as of now, Bernie's top competitor...isn't actually in the race. What would happen if Biden opted out after all? Would his supporters flock to the non-Bernie wing of the party? Eh, not necessarily:
"If Biden decided not to run, 30 percent of those who name him as their first-choice candidate would switch their allegiance to Sanders, whom they named as their second choice." https://t.co/THGHe35YyI— Katherine Miller (@katherinemiller) March 10, 2019
Meanwhile, a recent UNH survey of New Hampshire Democrats found Sanders at the top of the heap, with another poll released around the same time showed the Vermont socialist trailing only Biden. And it's not just Bernie himself, the New York Times noted over the weekend, it's his animating ideas that are dominating the party's 2020 conversation:
The sharp left turn in the Democratic Party and the rise of progressive presidential candidates are unnerving moderate Democrats who increasingly fear that the party could fritter away its chances of beating President Trump in 2020 by careening over a liberal cliff. Two months into the presidential campaign, the leading Democratic contenders have largely broken with consensus-driven politics and embraced leftist ideas on health care, taxes, the environment and Middle East policy that would fundamentally alter the economy, elements of foreign policy and ultimately remake American life.
Are unnerved moderates banking on Biden getting in and running strong? With a number of heterodox Democrats declining to run in recent days, might the former Vice President be clearing a path for himself behind the scenes? Based on the latest 'Biden Watch' dispatch, his team is preparing a turn-key launch, reaching out to candidates to fill important campaign positions. Perhaps more importantly, the Biden family is on board:
His nucleus of advisers has begun offering campaign positions to seasoned Democratic strategists. They are eyeing a headquarters in Delaware or nearby Philadelphia and a launch date in the beginning of April. Mr. Biden’s family is on board — his wife, Jill, enthusiastically so. Mr. Biden has also been privately reaching out to a range of influential Democrats, including party donors, members of Congress and allies in the early primary states, to gauge their support. A pillar of organized labor, the International Association of Fire Fighters, is prepared to support him in the Democratic primary.
But is the candidate sold on himself? A lot of people are eagerly, or even desperately, awaiting the answer to that question because if Uncle Joe opts out, it's difficult to see how that wouldn't augment Bernie's chances, even if there's an argument that a Biden vs. Sanders dynamic would benefit the latter. I'll leave you with an interesting identity politics-driven attack being leveled against Bernie, spearheaded by a lower-tier candidate who is explicitly embracing racial reparations:
Castro Hits Sanders: He Wants to Write a 'Big Check' for Everything But Reparations https://t.co/Jh9k4IyuN2— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) March 10, 2019