WASHINGTON-- Bernie Sanders' army of fervent progressives will be up for grabs in 2020 even if the Vermont independent again runs for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Sanders may be a victim of his own success in driving the party to the left with his 2016 run. The field of Democratic presidential candidates includes at least a half-dozen candidates who've adopted in whole or in part the platform that helped Sanders build a loyal following of young voters and liberals: Medicare for all, a $15-an-hour minimum wage and debt-free college education.
"There will be hardcore, hard-left progressives who will have nobody but Bernie, but there won't be many," said Howard Dean, a former presidential candidate and Democratic National Committee chairman.
Sanders consistently polls well ahead of the other Democrats who've announced plans to run in the 2020 primaries and behind former Vice President Joe Biden, who also is considering entering the race and would be a moderate alternative. But polls also show that Democrats are more focused on nominating a candidate who can beat President Donald Trump than they are with policy positions Sanders used to drive his surprisingly competitive challenge to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Dean, a Sanders critic who endorsed Clinton in the last race, said that while many Sanders supporters felt he "got cheated" during the 2016 primary race, they voted for Clinton in the general election. "That phenomenon is going to be amplified 100 percent this time around because people really, really want change," he said.
In addition to finding his message echoed by other candidates, Sanders, 77, would be competing with a younger and diverse field of candidates at a time when the votes of women, minorities and young people are driving Democratic politics.
"You are always in a stronger position to expand your base, if you have a strong base. And Bernie Sanders has a strong base inside the Democratic Party," said Mark Longabaugh, a senior adviser to Sanders. "If he decides to run again, I'm confident his message is as powerful today as it was in 2016, and he will be able to build a broad winning coalition."
Organizing for Bernie, a group founded by former Sanders staffers, is leading a coalition of pro-Sanders groups in a campaign to demonstrate that the senator still has support to sustain a potential campaign. The coalition includes Progressive Democrats of America and Our Revolution, which was formed in the wake of Sanders' 2016 campaign.
"He didn't just run for president in 2016, he really built a movement," said Nina Turner, the president of Our Revolution. "For us, and for other groups that are really pushing the senator to really get out there and run, we really want him to finish what he started and to know that there is a huge base of support for him if he decides to do it."
Some of those past supporters are weighing their options, or considering their own odds. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat and popular surrogate for Sanders in 2016, announced her presidential candidacy last month. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, the lone member of that chamber to endorse Sanders, has said he's considering running.