Bernie is back with a bang — but can he hold on to his supporters?

Bernie is back with a bang — but can he hold on to his supporters?
© Getty Images

Bernie is back with a bang!

Earlier this week, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Overnight Health Care: Top health official defends contract payments to Trump allies | Vaping advocates confident Trump will turn from flavor ban | Sanders gets endorsement from nurses union Krystal Ball credits Gabbard's upswing in 2020 race to 'feckless' Democratic establishment MORE (I-Vt.) officially announced his candidacy for president. Within a week, he raised a boatload of money and his supporters completely dominated the world of social media. Sanders and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report Giuliani pens op-ed slamming 'unprecedented' impeachment inquiry MORE (who has not announced a 2020 presidential bid) are the front runners in the race. But front runners are not favorites in the volatile universe of fickle Democratic primary voters.

Start your engines

ADVERTISEMENT

Most political observers gave Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisOutsider candidates outpoll insider candidates Poll: Buttigieg leads Democratic field in Iowa Press: Another billionaire need not apply MORE (D-Calif.) good grades for her announcement a few weeks ago. She raised $1.5 million within the first day of her candidacy and she set a ratings record for CNN when she appeared the cable network's Town Hall Summit.

Then Sanders blew her out of the water. The first day fundraising for Sanders dwarfed her take and my guess is the Vermont senator's appearance on the CNN Summit tomorrow will be an even bigger ratings bonanza than the previous record.

Sanders will have money to burn for his second presidential run. He raised $5.9 million in the first 24 hours after he officially launched his presidential candidacy on Vermont Public Radio. The haul came from approximately 225,000 people averaging about $27 a contribution.

This big base of small donors is priceless in a long presidential marathon for two reasons. First, these hardcore supporters are hard bodies for grassroots organizing efforts. The Sanders campaign can also go back time and time again to solicit these supporters whenever there's a need to make an expensive media buy.

On top of this early haul of grassroots dough, Sanders already had $9 million dollars in the bank left over from his 2018 U.S. Senate race. This kind of early money will be especially important in this campaign since the delegate selection schedule is so front loaded.

Californians will begin to vote absentee on Feb. 3, 2020, the same day as the Iowa Caucuses. It's one thing to buy Des Moines TV before the caucuses but it will cost a fortune for a campaign to buy Los Angeles TV before voters return their mail ballots in the Golden State. Sanders will have the money to do it and deluge the media markets in Texas only a month later. 

Is twice the charm?

Sanders didn't even think he had a chance to win when he entered the 2016 race but he came within a whisker of taking the Democratic nod away from the prohibitive favorite, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Krystal Ball credits Gabbard's upswing in 2020 race to 'feckless' Democratic establishment Outsider candidates outpoll insider candidates MORE. Early polls suggest he starts this race ahead of all the potential candidates except Biden. But there are also signs that the thrill is gone as many of his 2016 supporters are looking for new blood and moving onto greener pastures.

The best way indication of the slippage in his support is his position in Iowa. Sanders finished in a virtual 50-50 tie among Iowa caucuses goers with Hillary Clinton in 2016. But a survey of Iowa Democrats in December by the Des Moines Register indicated that many Bernie supporters had bailed on him. Only a fifth (19 percent) of the Democrats who planned to caucus in 2020 said they would support the senator from Vermont.  

What happened to all those Bernie supporters? 

Back in the day, Sanders was the only game in town if you didn't like the establishment candidate, Clinton. That was then. This is now. If Democrats want to vote against the establishment candidate Biden, they have a dozen choices aside from Sanders to choose from. Two of those choices, Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardOutsider candidates outpoll insider candidates Krystal Ball: Tulsi Gabbard surges, is she the most electable? New Quinnipiac poll finds Biden leading in New Hampshire MORE (D-Hawaii) and progressive activist Marianne Williamson were big-time Sanders supporters in 2016 but are now running against him.

Then there's the threat to Sanders that comes from the other prominent progressive populist in the race, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies Krystal Ball credits Gabbard's upswing in 2020 race to 'feckless' Democratic establishment MORE (D-Mass.). Warren will battle Sanders in New Hampshire, which holds the first in the nation presidential primary. The outcome of this neighborhood bar brawl in New England could seriously damage one of their candidacies.

ADVERTISEMENT

There’s not a dime’s worth of difference in the stands between the positions of the two populist Democratic senators. Warren is a fierce advocate of everything Sanders and his followers stand for. She aggressively supports his Medicare for All plan, his comprehensive job program and his stand to negate the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

There's something unique about Sanders that could carry him through tough times. He is the ultimate political outsider but he's been in office without interruption for the last 38 years and in Congress for the last 28. That's a long time to be in politics without selling out your principles and Americans are more than ready to stand on principle after two years of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE in the White House.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also a senior adviser to, and editor of, the blog at MyTiller.com, a social media network for politics.

This is the fourth piece in a series of profiles by Bannon on 2020 Democratic hopefuls. Read his analysis on Julian Castro, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)