Sen. Bernard Sanders’ grassroots activists fear a repeat of 2016 in next year’s Democratic primary — this time, instead of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, they see the party establishment rallying around former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in an effort to deny their candidate the nomination.
For hardcore Sanders supporters, Mr. Biden’s early domination of the race smacks of 2016, when the Democratic National Committee attempted to sabotage Mr. Sanders and clear the way to the nomination for Mrs. Clinton.
“The mainstream media and the DNC are colluding against the American people. That’s what it feels like. It’s the same thing all over again,” said Massachusetts neuroscientist Laurie Cestnick, a Sanders supporter who founded Occupy DNC to protest the nomination of Mrs. Clinton at the party’s 2016 convention in Philadelphia.
If they feel jilted again, Ms. Cestnick and fellow activists say they are not afraid to stage another revolt at the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, even if doing so damages the party’s nominee ahead of the general election contest against President Trump.
Sanders backers already mistrust polls that show Mr. Biden with a commanding lead and the news organizations that have put a spotlight on the former VP since he joined the race April 25.
“People are becoming more upset and becoming more firm behind Bernie due to mainstream media not covering a lot of his events and the strong push for Biden,” Ms. Cestnick said. “Is 2016 going to happen all over again? It is sure feeling like it. But I tell you, they are going to see a fight like they have never seen before.”
The Democratic Party does not want a repeat of the raucous 2016 convention, where Sanders delegates walked off the convention floor, and protests raged in the streets and parks outside the convention center.
Clinton campaign aides say the rift in the party after Philadelphia contributed to her narrow losses in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, sealing Mr. Trump’s victory.
DNC Chairman Tom Perez attempted to heal the party by adopting new rules for debates and nomination ballots. But Mr. Sanders’ supporters are unconvinced that the primary race is on the up and up.
The role of superdelegates — elected officials, DNC members and other party dignitaries who get to cast nominating votes at the convention for whomever they wish — remains a sore subject. In 2016, the superdelegates’ overwhelming support for Mrs. Clinton gave her an insurmountable lead heading into the convention.
The new rules deny superdelegates a vote in the first ballot at the convention, allowing delegates selected in primaries and caucuses to pick the nominee. But if a nominee is not chosen on the first ballot, the superdelegates get to vote and potentially decide the outcome.
It is not uncommon for multiple ballots at the convention and the crowded field in 2020 increases the odds for additional ballots.
“If [superdelegates] pick the No. 2 or the No. 3 candidate, it is a recipe for disaster,” said Larry Snider, president of Our Revolution Jacksonville, one of the more than 600 pro-Sanders grassroots organizations that have persisted since 2016.
As with members of other Our Revolution groups, Mr. Snider remains fiercely loyal and enthusiastically promotes Mr. Sanders’ 2020 run.
He is less than enthusiastic about the Democratic Party establishment and what he sees as their allies in the news media.
“I expect the DNC to do the same thing they did in 2016,” Mr. Snider said.
South Carolina state Rep. Terry Alexander, who was a Sanders delegate in 2016 and is backing him again for 2020, said the party establishment is still leery of Mr. Sanders.
“You hear it here and there, you know, some of those folks who say Sanders has got to go home or Sanders is not our man,” he said. “But I think it will be a different campaign this time because it is not going to be left up to the DNC. The party favorite is going to be picked by the people.”
Otherwise, he said, Mr. Trump will win a second term.
“I really hope the DNC is better than that. I hope the DNC will let this thing play out for the people. What happened in 2016, they wanted to dominate, they wanted to be in charge, they wanted to dictate and we got slammed, the Democratic Party got slammed,” Mr. Alexander said.
Mr. Perez said he thinks the new rules have made the party stronger, particularly the requirement that candidates either have 65,000 donors spread across 20 states or get 1% in at least three polls to qualify for the first two debates.
“The number of people who are engaged for the first time as a result of this criteria is remarkable, and I think that’s exactly what we want to do,” Mr. Perez said in an interview Wednesday on Boston Public Radio. “I’ve had the privilege of working pretty closely with probably three-quarters of them [and] I think it’s a first-class challenge to have.”