Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is among the announced candidates who offer an alternative to Sanders on policy. Rebecca Katz, a Democratic strategist who worked on Cynthia Nixon's challenge to New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, wrote in an email that Warren is "proving to be formidable."
"She has the progressive populism of Bernie Sanders, but backed with substantive and innovative policy proposals and, frankly, a better story," she wrote. "And also, as we saw in these past elections, I would not discount gender as a plus here."
Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said Warren has been consistent on policy and "meets this moment" as Democrats seek to take back the White House.
Green said he expects PCCC -- which coined the phrase "the Elizabeth Warren Wing of the party" and campaigned to encourage her to run for her Senate seat in 2012 -- will endorse Warren. In 2016 the group stayed neutral in the Democratic primary.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, endorsed Sanders early in the 2016 presidential campaign. Jayapal said Sanders' consistency on issues "gets him a lot of trust with the progressive movement versus some people who are newer to taking on some of these issues."
As a CPC co-chair, however, Jayapal said she won't endorse any candidates early. The caucus plans to invite candidates to meet with members for an interview, interact with them, and fill out a questionnaire on their policies on Medicare for all, debt-free college for all, infrastructure, collective bargaining and other issues, she said.
"I certainly have a lot of gratitude and respect for Senator Sanders and I'm really happy that I endorsed him last time," she said. "But there is a different field now and I think we need to let it shake out a little bit."
Members of Democracy for America, which grew out of Dean's 2004 presidential campaign, overwhelmingly voted to endorse Sanders in 2016, even though Dean supported Clinton. Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the group, said it's unclear whether any candidate will gain the support of a supermajority of members, the threshold required for an endorsement.
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"We have a much wider field this time and it's going to be way more important for each candidate to express with clarity what their progressive positions are," Chamberlain said. "Whereas in 2016 it was pretty straightforward."
Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey became the latest Democrat to enter the race, joining California Sen. Kamala Harris and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Warren of Massachusetts announced exploratory committees, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is expected to announce her campaign plans Sunday. A wider field of mayors, governors, business executives and members of Congress are also weighing runs.
Many of the candidates, particularly those in the Senate, have embraced many of the progressive ideas that set Sanders apart from Clinton in 2016. After Warren announced a proposal for a "wealth tax" on 2 percent on net worth above $50 million, as well as 3 percent on billionaires, Sanders proposed a dramatic expansion of the estate tax. Booker and Harris have bills to direct funds to lower income Americans.
"Inclusive populism is clearly the future of the party, it's the future of America, it's what people want to see," Chamberlain said.
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