As a 2016 presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont often claimed that the large crowds at every campaign stop weren’t about him, but about a budding “revolution.”
And he was right, in that a renewed progressive movement was born out of his campaign. And that means a new generation of leaders is needed to take up his torch of liberalism.
But will that include a new generation of the Sanders family? Well, it’s complicated.
Next week, Burlington, Vt. voters will head to the polls in the mayor’s race, featuring Sanders’ stepdaughter, Carina Driscoll, in an uphill battle to unseat the two-term incumbent. Sanders once held the mayor’s seat in Burlington.
And late Monday night, Sanders’s only biological child, Levi Sanders, announced he is running for Congress in New Hampshire. The response from New Hampshire Democrats and even Bernie’s most important aides? Most had already told him not to run and that they are going to back someone else.
Nepotism in American politics is as old as the country itself. Remember that eight of the last 10 presidential elections — going back 38 years — have had either a Bush or a Clinton on the national ticket.
While politics might be the family business for some, especially in New England, Sanders might be having a tougher time of that with his own children. In theory, children of already successful politicians enjoy three things: name recognition, ability to raise money from established networks of donors, and previously built campaign infrastructure.
In Burlington, Driscoll doesn’t share a last name, but she did receive the endorsement of Sanders’ political organization, Our Revolution, and she does enjoy help from the political base of the Sanders’ hometown.
But the conventional wisdom going around about the Burlington race is that while it will be close, Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger is a favorite to win the March 6 election. Part of Driscoll’s problem is that another progressive in the race, Infinite Culcleasure, is splitting her base of anti-Weinberger votes.
“As much as I would prefer that [Weinberger] won’t win, he will,” said Burlington City Councilor Max Tracy, who, like Driscoll, was endorsed by the Progressive Party.
We’ll see about that. But it is noteworthy that the stepdaugther of the most popular politician in Burlington isn’t a slam dunk.
Over in New Hampshire, the path to victory for is even harder. Sanders not only doesn’t live in the state’s First Congressional District that he will be running in, he lives over an hour from the district’s border.
Other than his last name, Sanders is a complete unknown in state politics. He ran for city council in his hometown of Claremont eight years ago, and lost badly. As for the New Hampshire race, Sanders is now the eighth Democratic in the contest. While his father won the state’s presidential primary by 23 points over Hillary Clinton two years ago, most of his father’s team, including his top aides and consultants — and endorsements — are already supporting other candidates.
On the national level, Levi got this brushback from his dad’s presidential campaign manager, Jeff Weaver: “Really doesn’t know much, to be honest with you.”
Despite all that, Levi Sanders will come into the race as a force because of who is father is. He appeared to borrow a campaign theme from his father as well.
“It is time to demand that we have a system which represents the 99 percent and not the 1 percent, who have never had it so good,” Levi Sanders wrote on his campaign announcement.
But Levi Sanders doesn’t have a turnkey operation from his father, since that went elsewhere, and his ability to raise money is a question that could go either way.
Beyond the races his children are in, there are Democratic primaries all over the country challenging the party’s status quo the way Bernie did in 2016. Those include governors’ races in Maryland and Georgia, the US Senate primary in California, and New York state Senate contests. And in maybe the biggest compliment to Bernie Sanders, even in the two elections his children are running in feature other candidates running with his message.
It’s too soon to know if there will be a Sanders political dynasty. But the Sanders revolution isn’t going away anytime soon.