- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Reports that Sen. Bernard Sanders is planning to run for president in 2020 are news to key operatives from his last national campaign, who say they have yet to hear from their champion.

But they are eager, and in some cases growing impatient, for him to reach out and tell them the campaign is a go. They say he doesn’t face the same sort of pressure as a slew of first-time candidates to jump into the race early.

“I really think there are a big number of Bernie supporters, at least in states I worked in, [that are] waiting,” said Pete D’Alessandro, Mr. Sanders’ 2016 campaign coordinator in Iowa. “They are not going to make a decision until he gets in. I think that number is much higher than people think it is.”

Yahoo News, citing two sources with knowledge of the senator’s plans, reported last week that Mr. Sanders would run again.

There has been no confirmation, though, and Mr. Sanders was tight-lipped on Capitol Hill. He told The Washington Times this week that he is not discussing 2020.

His camp is keeping the talk alive.

On Tuesday, followers sent out a fundraising email touting reports that Wall Street will try to derail the Vermont independent if he runs.

“Wall Street is terrified of us running for president again — and, frankly, they should be,” the email said. “Ours is one of the few campaigns that wouldn’t beg them for money and would actually rein in their reckless behavior.”

The email was clear, using uppercase letters to underscore “IF Bernie runs.”

In another email sent this week, Mr. Sanders thanked his supporters for helping to advance liberal caucuses and called on them to continue the fight.

The note caught the attention of Pat Cotham, a Mecklenburg County commissioner in North Carolina and former Democratic National Committee member who backed Mr. Sanders three years ago over Hillary Clinton. She said she didn’t think Mrs. Clinton could defeat Donald Trump and was turned off by her ties to Wall Street and her foreign policy positions.

Ms. Cotham said she is ready to support Mr. Sanders again — for now.

“I guess he is my starting point, but I would not commit until I had heard a lot of statements and watched debates,” she said. “So far, I am not enthused by others who have announced.”

State Rep. Terry Alexander, the first elected official in South Carolina to endorse Mr. Sanders in 2016, said he met with the U.S. senator during his visit to the Palmetto State last week and was surprised to hear the 2020 chatter.

“I was somewhat surprised that he was thinking of getting in,” he said.

Mr. Alexander said he is fond of Mr. Sanders and could envision backing him again, but he added that he wants to take a good look at the entire Democratic field before he sides with a candidate.

“I think it is going to be a different campaign,” Mr. Alexander said. “It is a whole different animal.”

When Mr. Sanders launched his underdog 2016 presidential bid in late April 2015, the Real Clear Politics average of polls showed Mrs. Clinton leading him in a head-to-head matchup by more than 50 percentage points.

Mr. Sanders ran a stronger than expected campaign. He raised enough money to stay viable and proved that policy positions once considered too radical for the Democratic Party had become mainstream, particularly among younger voters.

Now, his decision about 2020 ranks alongside former Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s thinking as dominant factors in evaluating the developing Democratic field.

Early polling puts the two men — both white and older than 75 — at the top of the list of potential contenders.

Yet Mr. Sanders would face new challenges in 2020.

Many rank-and-file Democrats say they are searching for a younger generation of leaders, and the field offers myriad choices that also check off other key Democratic diversity boxes.

The list includes Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who is exploring a bid, and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who has yet to announce his plans, as well as two lawmakers — Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii — who endorsed him three years ago.

Another contender is Sen. Kamala D. Harris, a California Democrat who on Monday endorsed a national health care system that would eliminate private insurance.

“I think it is a different campaign when there are 10 people standing on a debate stage and it is very likely that two or three people answer the question the same way you do,” Mr. D’Alessandro said. “So how do you deal with that?”

On the flip side, Mr. D’Alessandro, who is eager to help Mr. Sanders again, said the math could work in Mr. Sanders’ favor because he still has lots of hard-core supporters in key places such as Iowa, where he captured nearly half of all caucus voters in 2016.

“Even if half of them say, ‘I am with Bernie again,’ just half, you are starting at a pretty good number,” he said. “He would be in good shape to start with, even starting later, because he is going to start with a core group of folks who will say, ‘Not only am I am with you, but where is the office and when can I start doing things?’ “

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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