- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2019

DUBUQUE, Iowa | Sen. Bernard Sanders has more money and a tighter organization for his presidential bid this time around, but he faces many of the same hurdles that sidelined his 2016 run, including his age and his penchant for being an ideological warrior.

Sanders campaign officials say they are well ahead of where they were last time when they were, as they describe it, building the plane as they were trying to fly it.

“I think one of the things we learned is the idea that we need to get people on the ground as early we can,” said Pete D’Alessandro, a Sanders adviser.

The Sanders camp recently added 20 staffers, giving it more than 40 paid troops in Iowa, and it has compiled a list of 25,000 people across the state who have signed up to volunteer for the campaign.

“That is big,” Mr. D’Alessandro said. “Last time we might have had 25,000 people at this time, but we certainly didn’t know it, and we certainly didn’t know where we are.”

Jessica Vandenberg, another Sanders adviser, said that provides the campaign with a great platform from which to expand.

“We know who those people are and where to grow that base,” Ms. Vandenberg said. “Other candidates have to find the people who are supporting them.”

Mr. Sanders nearly shocked the political world in 2016 when he came out of nowhere promising to fight for Medicare for All, tuition-free college and higher taxes on the rich, while vowing to reel in Wall Street and corporate America.

Mr. Sanders barely lost the Iowa caucuses, with 49.6% of the vote, to rival former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who snared 49.8%, and followed that up with a lopsided victory in New Hampshire, throwing a major wrinkle in the former first lady’s plans.

His supporters, though, were left with a bitter taste in their mouth after leaked emails showed Democratic National Committee leaders favored Mrs. Clinton and over the role superdelegates played in the nomination process.

Still, the hard-fought race cemented Mr. Sanders‘ image as a champion for liberal causes and allowed him to develop a national donor base that helped him raise $18.2 million over the first six weeks of his 2020 bid — leaving him with more money in the bank than any of his rivals over the first quarter of the year.

Still, Mr. Sanders is facing off against a much deeper and diverse field of contenders this election, many of whom are running on issues that made him such a popular figure last time.

“He is not the new kid on the block, and it is not the situation where he is the only option to Secretary Clinton,” said former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. “He now has a number of folks, Sen. [Elizabeth] Warren and others, who are basically saying, ‘Look at me, I am progressive, I have big, bold ideas.’ So he has competition in his lane, and he has competition among the most progressive and most energetic Democrats.”

“That is going to make it harder for him to preserve what he had in 2016, much less grow what he needs in 2020,” Mr. Vilsack said. “That is a real challenge for him.”

A Des Moines Register/CNN poll released over the weekend sent mixed messages about the state of Mr. Sanders‘ campaign.

It showed him running second behind Mr. Biden, and that his support had slipped from earlier in the year, putting him in a virtual tie with Ms. Warren and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Sanders is telling voters he is running to transform the “consciousness” of the nation to create an economy and government that caters more to people struggling to get by.

“We have got to change our consciousness and talk about the immorality of the pharmaceutical industry making tens of billions of dollars in profit at a time when so many of our people cannot afford the medicine they desperately need,” Mr. Sanders said at a recent campaign stop in Waterloo. “Changing consciousness is saying, ‘That is not what a Democratic civilized society is about, we will not accept that.’”

Compared to 2016, the 77-year-old has flashed more of his personality on the stump and made more of a habit of carrying on free-flowing conversations with voters at his events, asking them to share personal stories about their financial and health care struggles.

And he’s hammering home the message that he is best positioned to defeat President Trump.

“Our campaign will have an energy and excitement that I think this country has never seen before,” Mr. Sanders said at the event. “I think this campaign is the campaign to bring out millions of young people.”

“The truth is the younger generation is the most progressive young generation in the history of this country,” he said “They are anti-racists, they are anti-homophobic, they are anti-xenophobic, they are anti-religious bigotry, they are anti-everything that Donald Trump is for.”

Carla Heathcote, who backed Mr. Sanders in 2016 and envisions supporting him in 2020, said the Vermont independent maintains a strong appeal with young voters and has a loyal band of supporters who are ready to go to bat for him again.

“He is honest,” Ms. Heathcote said Monday as she waited to hear from California Sen. Kamala D. Harris in Dubuque. “He is just a good guy and worked hard and he has fought the good fight for so many years.”

“Is he electable?” Ms. Heathcote said. “I think he is.”

Mr. Sanders‘ supporters are skeptical over whether the Democratic establishment, power brokers in Washington and the corporate news media will give him a fair shake.

Garret Ficken said Mr. Sanders is getting a raw deal.

“I feel like they are trying to squeeze him out already,” Mr. Ficken said. “When they talk about another candidate and what they’ve done, they are failing to mention that this man has been doing this for 40 years and hasn’t changed his opinion.”

“It’s like this dude has been doing this for 60 years,” the 35-year-old said. “You go through the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, he hasn’t skipped a beat.”

Others, though, said Mr. Sanders may have missed his window.

Jackson Linder, for instance, caucused for Mr. Sanders in 2016 and remains a big fan but said Mr. Buttigieg now is his top choice.

“It seems like people are kind of getting tired of him, honestly,” Mr. Linder said of Mr. Sanders. “It is kind of like people don’t want the old guy. I am a ‘Feel the Bern’ guy, but it just seems like people are kind of getting burnt out on him.”

Katie Gibson, who recently moved to Cedar Rapids, also is giving other candidates in the field a good look after going all-in for Mr. Sanders before.

“I was really into Bernie in 2016, but this time around no so much,” said Ms. Gibson, 27. “I feel like his time has kind of passed.”

Terry Stewart, the former chairman of the Dubuque Iowa Democrats, said 2020 is a “different ballgame” for Mr. Sanders.

“The fact that there are so many talented candidates — some of them are black, some of them are young men, some of them gay — that he is not the end all and be all, he is not the only alternative out there,” Mr. Stewart said.

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