- The Washington Times - Monday, December 30, 2019

Sen. Bernard Sanders has been the steady workhorse of the 2020 presidential campaign, and he’s betting Democratic primary voters will reward consistency.

Having cut his teeth in 2016, he has done nothing but refine his positions, build his operation and leave himself in the top tier of the presidential field a little over a month out from the first nomination contest in Iowa.

“The thing about Sen. Sanders is it doesn’t matter what group he is in front of, he’s going to say the same thing,” said South Carolina state Rep. Terry Alexander, a Sanders backer. “That’s consistency: Black groups, he will give the same message as with white folks. Poor folks, he will give the same message as rich folks. You see what I mean? Regardless of your nationality, you are going to get the same message, and that is consistency and that is what I think the folks are looking at.”

It remains to be seen whether that will pay off at the ballot box come February, when voters start turning out for the opening primary contests.

What is clear is Mr. Sanders‘ consistent message has him within striking distance of the party’s nomination and made him one of the most familiar — and trusted — faces in politics.

If recent history is a predictor, however, voters seem more inclined to elect a fresh face than a familiar one, which could pose problems for the 78-year-old Vermont independent. Since 1992, voters have elected — and then reelected — first-time presidential candidates: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

Mr. Sanders would be the first already-ran to win the presidency since then-Vice President George H.W. Bush pulled off the feat in 1988. Mr. Bush fell short in his first bid against former California Gov. Ronald Reagan in the 1980 GOP presidential primary before being tapped for the No. 2 spot on the ticket.

Some say Mr. Sanders‘ message — not his consistency — is his problem.

“In the Bernie ideal world, we non-billionaires would be deprived of Amazon.com, personal computers, smartphones, fracking (which reduces greenhouse gases), Uber, Walmart, Star Wars movies, and very possibly our jobs,” columnist Mona Charen wrote this week in the National Journal. “Millions of children would be deprived of school scholarships, while the arts, medical research, and poverty programs would be that much poorer. Billionaires are not heroes, but by making them boogeymen, Sanders betrays his economic infantilism along with a large dose of demagoguery.”

Mr. Sanders was a blip on the screen when he announced his bid four years go and easily exceeded expectations. He nearly defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses and then smoked her in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary on his way to winning a total of 22 states, underscoring the party’s thirst for something different and its veer to the left.

Since then, the party has moved further in his direction, giving rise to the likes of freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the far-left star who organized for Mr. Sanders’ 2016 bid and vowed to deliver radical change on her way to an upset primary win in 2018 over longtime Rep. Joseph R. Crowley, a member of the Democratic leadership team and once considered to be in line for House speaker.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez now is Mr. Sanders’ most high-powered surrogates on the campaign trail, where she is calling for a “loving society” and saying it is time to bring an end to a form of government in which “the rich are put first and working people are put last day in and day out.”

“I know and we all know that this isn’t just about Bernie Sanders. This is about a movement that has been decades in the making,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said at a recent rally in California. “This is about our lifetime, and one of the things that make this campaign different is that we know that we can’t go back to the way things were before. Because the way things were before is how we got to where we are now.”

Some of Mr. Sanders’ rivals have embraced his populist message and policy positions — including “Medicare for All,” free college tuition and a $15 minimum wage — that were seen as too extreme earlier this decade.

That also has made it a bit harder for Mr. Sanders to stand out.

He has marched ahead, even overcoming a heart attack during the campaign, while hammering home his vision for big structural change and aggressively pushing to expand the electorate to include younger, working-class and minority voters.

“What our campaign is about is not only defeating Trump,” Mr. Sanders said at the California rally. “It is about a political revolution. It is about transforming this country. It is about creating a government and an economy that works for all people and not just the 1%.”

The strategy arguably is working. Mr. Sanders has had some of the steadiest poll numbers in the 2020 campaign. Voters also see him as the candidate that cares the most about people like them and as the most honest candidate in the field.

Despite being the oldest candidate in the field, he is the preferred pick of younger voters.

As it stands, he is polling second in Iowa, first in New Hampshire, and battling it out for the second spot in Nevada and South Carolina.

Meanwhile, he has received more than 4 million contributions from more than 1.2 million Americans — setting a new bar for small-dollar donations.

“He is the most consistently unappreciated candidate and underrated candidate,” said Carlos Cardona, chairman of the Laconia New Hampshire Democrats and a Sanders backer. “I think people are underestimating him because they thought his moment had passed.”

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