With Sanders Now a Democratic
Presidential Candidate,
What is His Path to Victory?

By Jim Ellis

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-D/VT)

Feb. 21, 2019 — Calling Donald Trump “the most dangerous president in modern American history,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-D/VT) announced his 2020 presidential campaign through You Tube and email this week.

His further virulent attack on President Trump was softened by his call to unite America under his presidential campaign, with a goal, he stated, of recruiting more than 1 million volunteers to participate in a grassroots message delivery operation.

The rhetoric notwithstanding, where is Sen. Sanders’ path to the Democratic nomination? This will only be the second time in his long career where he has actually entered Democratic Party primaries. Has his political opportunity window closed as many believe to be the case?

Though the senator is now 77 years of age and would be 79 when sworn into office, should he win the presidency next year, he still has strong support within the youngest segment of the American electorate. He also attempts to appeal to racial minorities, union workers, and climate change activists as the core constituencies of a political base that he believes can expand and carry him to the nomination.

But, unlike 2016, when he battled eventual nominee Hillary Clinton one-on-one through all of the primaries and to the Democratic National Convention only to lose 60-40 percent on the first ballot roll call, he does not have the Democratic left all to himself.

Sen. Sanders’ previous delegate numbers matched the percentage of primaries and caucuses that he won while scoring a slightly better 43.1 percent in the popular vote count. The latter figure is calculated when examining the aggregate of all 57 Democratic nomination events, representing more than 13.2 million Democrats who voted for the Vermont senator.

His strongest geographic areas were his native New England, though Clinton won the region’s two largest states of Massachusetts and Connecticut, the northern Great Lakes, the central and Rocky Mountain caucuses, and the Pacific Northwest. He also placed behind Clinton in the Mid-Atlantic region, the South, the Southwest, and California.

But the 2020 campaign will be much different largely because several candidates are moving into his ideological sphere and attempting to draw those who align themselves within that faction of the Democratic Party framework toward their own candidacies. Thus, many see Sanders as a candidate whose prime time has slipped away now becoming muddled within a large group of candidates attempting to be the left’s standard bearer.

Conversely, the Democratic rules and what appears to be an early voting schedule look to help the new Sanders campaign. The fact that the Democratic nomination rules do not include a winner-take-all option means that multiple candidates will earn delegates in virtually every state and/or caucus.

To qualify for delegates, states have a popular vote threshold that each candidate must reach in their voting event (primary or caucus) to win bound delegate votes on at least the first ballot at the national convention. Usually, that threshold is 15 percent of the popular vote, but some states have even lower prerequisites.

With his high name identification and strong core support base, it is realistic to believe that Sen. Sanders will score delegate votes from possibly every state, making it probable that he will register at least 15 percent everywhere. If so, and considering that 29 states may vote on or before March 17, 2020 — the earlier an entity votes the more it should help the better-known candidates — Sen. Sanders’ ability to attract committed and bound delegate votes is still strong even if he fails to place first in the preponderance of primaries and caucuses.

Should no candidate receive a majority on the initial roll call, therefore forcing at least one other vote with the addition of the Super Delegates who are barred from participation on the first ballot, Sen. Sanders should command enough committed support to at least help guide the convention in the direction of the candidate he prefers, assuming he falls short of garnering majority support.

Therefore, while Bernie Sanders may not occupy the favorite’s position as the campaign begins, he could well become the key power broker once the process moves to the convention floor.

At this point, 11 Democrats have now officially entered the presidential campaign or filed national exploratory committees. The major remaining decision belongs to former Vice President Joe Biden, who leads the nomination field in all early polling. Biden is indicating he will make public his decision sometime in March, and whether or not he decides to enter the race will prove a pivotal mark in this early national campaign season.

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