Bernie Sanders is running for US president again. Does he stand a chance?

  • Azaera Amza
  • 21 Feb 2019

US Senator Bernie Sanders, who mounted a fierce challenge to front-runner Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries, will once more seek the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2020.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont during the State of the Union address before members of Congress in the House chamber of the US Capitol. (February 5, 2019) ( Getty Images )

When Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for the 2020 US presidential election, nobody was shocked. 

The senator from Vermont launched his first 2016 candidacy against Hillary Clinton as a long shot but ended up capturing 23 state nominating contests, pushing the party to the left, but did not succeed in earning the Democratic nomination. 

This time, Sanders says he will win.

"Our campaign is not only about defeating Donald Trump," the 77-year-old self-described democratic socialist said in an email to supporters. 

"Our campaign is about transforming our country and creating a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice."

Bernie Sanders galvanised a broad coalition with his anti-Wall Street rhetoric and talk of a "political revolution." (February 13, 2019)(AFP)

Waning influence 

But analysts are not convinced Sanders can pull more weight than he did the last election. 

“This time he will not have the same dramatic impact in a very large field where he won’t have the same target,” Allan Lichtman, Political Forecaster and Historian told TRT World

“He will probably have his greatest influence in moving the Democratic party to the left rather than in becoming its presidential candidate.” 

Sanders’ far-left policies are no longer foreign concepts. Widely embraced by many popular Democrat candidates, they no longer have their unique selling point. Democrats now have a far more diverse field that could ultimately exceed two dozen high-profile contenders. 

Then there are also the candidates who have not thrown their hat into the ring yet - popular politicians like former vice president Joe Biden and Senator Sherrod Brown. 

“Now he begins a second run not as a political outsider but as a top-tier candidate with near-universal name recognition, a dedicated following and an unrivalled donor list,” wrote Lauren Gambino and Tom McCarthy for the Guardian.

Bernie Sanders enters a field that already includes progressive favorites like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Senator. (January 22, 2019)(AP)

There is no denying the scope of Sanders’ influence. When he ran for the 2016 presidential election his policies, which involved a hike in the minimum wage to $15, advocating Medicare for all and a focus on climate change, were novel, radical even.

Now in the Donald Trump era, Democrat party policies have shifted to the left with more self-described socialist politicians in power. 

“The fact that Sanders lost to Hillary also serves as a kind of blemish against him and a reason why some of the other younger candidates should be at the top of the Democratic ticket,” said Matthew Carlson, Associate Professor in Political Science at the University of Vermont.

California Senator Kamala Harris has adopted much of Sanders' agenda to provide free universal health care, free college tuition and a $15 minimum wage. (February 8, 2019)(AP)

Catering to the electorate

Consider the optics. Bernie Sanders is an elderly white male campaigning against other Democrat candidates like Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. 

“Indeed, he also has some baggage that may dent his support, including his age, the fact that he represents a very white state, as well as the allegations of sexual harassment by staffers,” Carlson told TRT World.

Sanders’ 2016 campaign was also accused of neglecting black voters, a portion of the electorate that may eventually have led to his losing the Democrat Party ticket. In South Carolina’s Democratic primary, Sanders won 14 percent of votes compared to Clinton’s 84 percent. 

“...His campaign’s experience in 2016, as described in interviews with nearly two dozen current and former advisers and staff members, reveals a strikingly uneven commitment on the part of Mr Sanders and his top advisers to organise and communicate effectively with black voters and leaders,” a piece by the New York Times noted. 

Instead, the heart of Bernie Sanders’ support consisted of the so-called Bernie Bros, mostly young white males. For Sanders to succeed on the Democrat ticket next year, he will need to appeal to a wide electorate - women, an elder generation, black voters, liberals and Democrats themselves. 

Sanders appears to have made moves to change this image, appointing Faiz Shakir, National Political Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, as his 2020 campaign manager - the first ever Muslim presidential campaign manager

“I think he will continue to have difficulty in winning the African American and Hispanic vote, especially with several minority candidates in the field,” Lichtman told TRT World

“You can’t become the Democratic nominee without doing at least respectably well with minority voters,” Lichtman added. 

Sanders’ campaign could well transform the country, as expressed in his email declaring his candidacy, but there is also a possibility that it will not be him at the helm when that change occurs.