Two months ago, it didn’t look good for Bernie Sanders or his presidential campaign. He was at a Las Vegas-area hospital recovering from a heart attack. Polls in Iowa and New Hampshire showed him way back in third place among Democrats. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren, his rival for the progressive wing for the Democratic presidential electorate, was surging and, at the time, was leading the race.
To some, it felt like the beginning of the end of Sanders’ six-year-long White House effort. The health scare, after all, offered him a chance to bow out of the race, save face, and use his clout to further push the field to the left.
But the terrible, no good, very bad moment for Sanders ended up being just a blip.
With approximately 50 days before the Iowa caucuses, Sanders is not only back, but he has the cleanest shot at the 2020 Democratic nomination.
In Iowa, he is in a close second place behind South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He has reclaimed the lead in New Hampshire. And in Nevada, he is second, behind former vice president Joe Biden, according to the Real Clear Politics poll averages in those states. No one else can argue they are in the mix to win the first three nomination contests of Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada like Sanders. Big wins in those contests would make challenging him in other states insurmountable, if history is any guide.
What’s especially interesting about Sanders is his hardcore base of supporters.
Poll after poll shows that a majority of likely Democratic presidential primary voters are still making up their mind on who they will support, even if they are leaning toward someone at the moment.
This means that a onetime supporter of Kamala Harris may later back Warren, and those who backed Biden may now be with Buttigieg.
But Sanders people are Sanders people.
In the most recent Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters, released in late November, found that 64 percent of Sanders voters said their minds are firmly made up to support him.
Compare that with the 37 percent of Biden supporters, 36 percent of Warren supporters, and 30 percent of Buttigieg supporters who said they fully backed their candidate.
With such a base of support and such a large field, Sanders was always going to be a factor of some kind.
Plus, Sanders is getting a lot of progressive energy. Three members of the Squad of first-term House Democrats have endorsed him, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. In addition, in recent weeks he has begun to rack up labor union endorsements at a clip faster than his rivals.
Where Sanders goes from here is unclear. But he has the biggest base of supporters of anyone who is not open to looking at anyone else. He is expected to, once again, lead the field in fund-raising at the end of the month. And he has real progressive energy behind him.
What a difference two months makes.
James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.