LAS VEGAS — President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden squared off at dueling rallies in Nevada Saturday, a preview of what could potentially become a nasty 2020 match-up in a critical swing state.
Trump, rallying the GOP base in the northern city of Elko, labeled the Democrat “Sleepy Joe Biden” and “One Percent Joe,” mocking both the size of the crowd at Biden’s event and the former vice president’s past failed presidential campaigns. Biden responded in kind, telling the crowd of several hundred outside the local Culinary Union here that Trump was “shredding” basic decency and making a deliberate effort to divide the country.
He told the crowd he decided to speak out against Trump after his response to white supremacists marching in Virginia last year. At the rally, Biden criticized the president’s rhetoric on minorities, his embrace of Vladimir Putin, and the separation of families at the Mexican border.
“It’s a conscious effort to divide the country,” Biden said. “It’s deliberate. And it worked in part. We can’t let it work again.”
A few minutes later, Trump punched back.
“I think he ran three times, and he never had more than 1 percent, so we call him, ‘One-Percent Joe,” Trump said.
“And then remember what happened?” he continued. “Obama came along and took him off the trash heap and made him vice president. But he never had more than 1 percent.”
The dueling rallies were intended to gin up each party’s base ahead of hotly-contested Senate and gubernatorial races here. Biden implored voters to send first-term Rep. Jacky Rosen to the Senate to help flip the majority; GOP Sen. Dean Heller has led narrowly in several recent public polls.
Trump, meanwhile, rallied the GOP faithful behind the freshman senator, who praised him effusively despite their previously contentious relationship.
Biden’s visit was just the latest in a steady stream Democrats eyeing 2020 making stops in Nevada, which is both a critical swing state in the general election and the “first in the West” caucus, which could help propel the winner out of a likely crowded field of contenders.
Nevada served as a significant proving ground for Hillary Clinton with non-white voters in 2016, giving her momentum heading into South Carolina and the Southern primaries that followed. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said at the Nevada Democratic Party’s state convention in June that the state marked a rare “bright spot” for Democrats two years ago. Clinton carried the state while Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto won a race to become the first Latina senator. Democrats also flipped the state legislature.
But Trump only lost the state by 2.4 percentage points, and Republicans expect to compete here in 2020.
“It’s not enough to just show who they are,” Biden said of Trump and Republicans. “We’ve got to tell them who we are. What do we stand for. What does the Democratic Party stand for today?”
Biden also touted his close relationship with former President Barack Obama, who won Nevada twice and will headline a rally for Senate hopeful Jacky Rosen here on Monday.
“He’s a good friend, man,” Biden said. “I want to make it clear: all those memes, they’re basically true. He made the first friendship bracelet, not me.”
This year, in addition to raising money for Rosen and making visits to the state’s powerful Culinary Union, Democratic contenders have been requesting audiences with former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who remains a powerful force in Democratic politics in Nevada and is expected to become involved in the 2020 presidential primary here.
“I’m Joe Biden and I work for Harry Reid,” the former vice president said to kick off his rally.
Rosen has benefited from the big-name guests. Sen. Jeff Merkley joined her for a small event Saturday, and will campaign with her in Reno Sunday. Sen. Bernie Sanders will rally for her Thursday, and she’s had fundraising help from Sens. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley. Warren headlined a state party event over the summer and got her own split-screen with Trump, who was rallying in Las Vegas that day.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, talked gun control with Democratic candidates during a swing through Las Vegas in April. Merkley held an event with Rosen on energy and environmental issues in the spring. Booker campaigned with candidates here in August, and in a social media video for Rosen said, “This state is in my blood.”
Perhaps no Democrat has campaigned as aggressively in Nevada as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. At a United Brotherhood of Carpenters International training center in Las Vegas last month, Garcetti noted that he was making his fifth trip already this year.
Relative newcomers to early primary politics, Nevada Democrats have relished their position on the primary calendar since the state became an early caucus state in 2008. Heightened attention on the contest here is viewed by Democrats as significant to increasing Democratic voter registration in a competitive state.
Bob Fulkerson, state director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada Action Fund, a progressive group that runs registration and turnout operations in the state, said that as Democratic presidential contenders campaign for Nevada Democrats this year, “The oblique message is, ‘Vote for me in the primary, too,’ although they’re classy enough not to say that.”
He said, “I think it’s good. I think it really shows voters, particularly low-propensity voters, want to be talked to directly … To have candidates come here and actually tell them that they matter is really important.”
William McCurdy, the state Democratic Party chairman, said the state represents an important stop for any Democrat with ambitions to challenge Trump. He specifically touted Biden, Warren and Harris for having strong relationships with the party here.
“Some of these folks want to run for president in 2020, why not come interact with one of the most exciting bases in the country?” McCurdy said.
He added that he was pleased with how many potential 2020 contenders had made trips to Nevada so far, but he’s not satisfied yet.
“We’re looking for a few more, we want a few more,” McCurdy said.
Republicans view Nevada as a state Trump could potentially compete in two years from now. Trump has formed a close bond with Heller, who has won four statewide races here and has embraced the president as he’s run for reelection.
“This is Trump country now. He will win this state,” said Michael McDonald, the Nevada GOP chairman. “If you look at the success he’s had over 18 months, and I say that with all due respect to the former vice president, there’s no one on that side of the aisle that can compete with President Trump.”
Democrats, obviously, disagree, and look at Nevada as central to their path to defeating Trump in two years. In this midterm year, Democrats are investing significantly in Latino turnout in Nevada in an effort not only to oust Heller, but to capitalize on the state’s changing demographics to close off any opening Trump might have.
“I think Nevadans here are going to pick anybody over Trump,” said Megan Jones, a Democratic strategist in Nevada. “And I think that in ’20 they will be loaded up for bear no matter who the nominee is.”
With such a large potential slate of candidates, no favorites have emerged yet. Margy Feldman, a retired woman from Henderson, Nevada who has been volunteering for Rosen, said before the rally began that she loves Biden, but is worried about his age. She said she was hoping for someone “younger, that has super high energy” and someone who isn’t a “household name.”
But immediately after Biden spoke, Feldman returned to amend her view: “I’m going to go vote for Joe Biden,” she said. “I’m so excited.”
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Bernie Sanders says he speaks with Elizabeth Warren nearly every day — just not about 2020.
But with the two progressive behemoths on a collision course in the presidential primary — and with some progressive activists alarmed that they might split the vote, allowing a more moderate Democrat to win the nomination — Sanders suggested Friday that a pre-2020 discussion among like-minded candidates could be forthcoming.
Asked whether he and other progressive contenders should hold talks in an effort to ensure one of them prevails, Sanders told POLITICO, “I suspect that in the coming weeks and months, there will be discussions.”
Asked whether he has spoken already with Warren or Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) about the 2020 campaign, Sanders said, “No, not really.”
An aide to Warren did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sanders’ remarks come as progressive Democrats begin to grapple with the burgeoning field of prospective 2020 candidates. At least three senators — Sanders (I-Vt.), Warren (D-Mass.) and Merkley — are likely to compete for many of the same hard-left supporters Sanders drew in 2016.
Sanders touched off a nine-state midterm election tour on Friday, while Warren has been aggressively preparing for a 2020 launch. Other Democrats, including Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), have taken steps to advance tax and other policy proposals appealing to progressive Democrats.
The jockeying among progressive candidates has sparked worry among some hard-left activists, who fear they could split the vote in the 2020 primary, ceding ground to a more moderate Democrat.
“I hope there will be serious conversations between Sens. Sanders and Warren, and perhaps Sen. Merkley,” Jeff Cohen, co-founder of the online activist group RootsAction.org. “I think I speak for many progressives who dominate the Democratic Party base when I say we’d like to see one genuine progressive in the race and not two or three splitting the vote.”
It’s unclear what any pre-election meeting would accomplish. Politicians more typically agree to sit out elections at lower rungs of government, where ingratiating oneself to the party establishment can result in support seeking an alternative office. It is far rarer for a presidential aspirant to check his or her ambitions.
But a pre-2020 agreement would not necessarily require any candidate to immediately step aside. Instead, candidates could discuss benchmarks — fundraising, polling, or early primary performance — and at what point progressive candidates would throw their support to a fellow progressive in the race.
Larry Cohen, a former head of the Communications Workers of America who now chairs the board of Our Revolution, a political offshoot of Sanders’ 2016 campaign, said the large crowds Sanders drew on Friday in Indiana and Michigan were evidence that Sanders’ “message continues to be unique, and resonates with younger voters and their concerns with economic justice.”
“It is important that if there are other similar candidates in the 2020 presidential nominating campaign, that they support each other at least in minimal ways, or that they support each other as much as possible so that one of them is the nominee,” Cohen added.
Sanders demurred when asked to expand on any potential pre-2020 conversation with other progressives.
“We’ll see what will happen,” Sanders said. “I don’t know what will happen. Of course, I speak to Elizabeth [Warren] almost every day … We will see what happens.”
He said, “The major issue right now is, I think, for progressives to expose Trump for the fraud that he is, and to come up with an agenda that makes sense to working families.”
In 2016, Merkley was the Sanders’ only fellow senator to endorse his presidential campaign. But the party has shifted left since the last presidential election, drawing closer to Sanders’ positions on health care and college affordability. Earlier this week, Harris proposed a new tax break for average Americans, calling for a $6,000 tax credit for families earning up to $100,000.
The clamoring on the left has encouraged longtime progressives, including Sanders, who said that in his failed run for president in 2016, “I think we opened up the door for people to understand that the American people want real change.”
Now, Sanders said, “You’re seeing candidates coming up with ideas to try to address those issues.”
“In a sense, Trump has helped us, because he has said that deficits don’t matter, that you can give a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the top 1 percent,” Sanders said. “And that opens the door, I think, for progressives to start saying we’re going to use the federal government to protect the interests of working families, not just the people on top.”
Any effort by progressive candidates to coordinate ahead of the 2020 campaign could backfire, with many Sanders supporters still seething over his treatment by establishment Democrats in 2016.
In 2020, “It’s to the advantage of progressives in the party not to have the appearance of smoke-filled rooms,” said Norman Solomon, who in 2016 coordinated the group “Bernie Delegates Network,” which operated independently of his campaign.
Daily Kos national community organizer Chris Reeves, a Democratic National Committee member from Kansas, said the field of progressive candidates in 2020 will likely be winnowed naturally, anyway, by donors and in primary debates. And with Trump in office, he suggested intra-party friction over ideology will be less prominent in 2020.
“I would take a ham sandwich on rye over Trump,” he said.
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ELKO, Nev. — Not that long ago, it wasn’t hard to imagine moderate Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) breaking with President Donald Trump in his reelection campaign, given Nevada’s swing-state status and Heller’s refusal before the 2016 election to say whether he’d vote for Trump.
But on Saturday the two were acting like old pals. Standing onstage in this small rural city in the far reaches of Northern Nevada, Heller basked in the glow of the president, who trekked cross-country to stump for his onetime skeptic.
The president praised the senator for his collaboration on tax reform and veterans issues. Heller declared the president’s first two years a triumph: “Welcome to Trump Country!” he beamed, turning to Trump: “Mr. President, you know a little bit about gold. In fact, I think everything you touch turns to gold.”
Trump has nursed some legendary grudges. But his union of obligation with Heller, coming after their turbulent start, underscores what his advisers describe as the president’s increasing comfort with bending to political imperatives the longer he’s in the White House. And it provides insight into his evolution from anti-establishment interloper to party leader whose fortunes are now closely linked with Republicans.
On his swing though Nevada, Arizona and Montana this week, Trump touted his alliances with former rivals, brandishing his capacity for political absolution like a United Nations peacekeeper might carry the blue helmet.
“You know, you go to wars together and then, if you’re smart, and if they’re smart, you get along,” Trump said Thursday his stop in Missoula, Montana. He went on to say he has “great relationships” with his 2016 rivals.
“Ted Cruz has become a friend of mine. He’s doing great. And Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee,” he said, adding to the list of former adversaries. Left unmentioned were Trump’s previous spats with Republican Lindsey Graham, whose cell phone number he shared with the world, and Rand Paul, whom he suggested was ugly during an early presidential debate. Now, the two senators are golf buddies and among Trump’s closest friends in the Senate.
On Monday, Trump will rally at an 18,000-seat arena in Houston for Cruz, who is facing a stiff challenge from Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic darling and national fundraising juggernaut. On Wednesday, the president will be in Mosinee, Wisconsin, to rally for Gov. Scott Walker, another former 2016 foe whose state is key to Trump’s reelection hopes.
“If you look at Trump and his history — he’s always willing to make nice with people who will make nice with him,” a former White House official said.
Trump doesn’t need to have a deep personal connection to appreciate someone’s value. In some cases he prefers a comfortable, but arms-length pact based on mutual respect and utility, according to more than a half-dozen White House aides and outside presidential advisers.
This year, Republicans’ efforts to maintain Senate control have been made easier by Trump’s tendency to let bygones be bygones. Martha McSally, a GOP congresswoman running to succeed Trump-detractor Jeff Flake, the senator from Arizona, also declined to endorse Trump in 2016.
But Trump resisted wading into McSally’s primary against hard-line conservatives Kelli Ward and Joe Arpaio, the ex-Maricopa County sheriff whom the president pardoned last year for criminal contempt of court. On Friday, Trump headlined a Scottsdale fundraiser benefiting a joint committee of McSally, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Arizona Republican Party that raised more than $700,000, said a person familiar with the event.
Later, Trump sang the praises of McSally, a former pilot who was stationed in the Middle East, while they toured Luke Air Force Base, and then again at his midterm rally at a hangar in Mesa.
“Martha’s a veteran, a great veteran, a great fighter, a warrior,” Trump said, contrasting her background with her Democratic rival’s. “While Martha was bravely fighting the Taliban, Kyrsten Sinema said she had no problem with Americans defecting from our country to join the Taliban.”
Trump’s evolution with Cruz is especially striking. In 2016, Trump suggested that Cruz’s father was involved in JFK’s assasination, and seemed to imply that the senator’s wife was ugly. Cruz returned the favor by announcing on stage at the Republican National Convention that Republicans should “vote your conscience.”
Government aides to Trump and Cruz now communicate regularly, and the president and senator have spoken directly on everything from funding for hurricane disaster relief to trade policy to Trump’s Supreme Court nominations, according to a senior Republican official with insight into the connection.
Along the way came little breakthroughs.
In the midst of the health care fight last year, Cruz saw the opportunity to debate Sen. Bernie Sanders live on CNN as a way to highlight what Republicans view as Sanders’ outside-the-mainstream support for “Medicare for all,” as well as to show that he could be a team player by helping advance the GOP and Trump agendas. Trump was pleased enough with the performance he reached out to Cruz to tell him he did a good job. (One aide familiar with the exchange noted the president did not explicitly say he tuned in to CNN, his favorite media punching bag.)
Yet of all Trump’s relations, it’s his pact with Heller that is most indicative of his approach. The senator holds a slight lead over Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen in recent public polls.
“The president is well aware of the challenging political nature of Nevada and he appreciates that Sen. Heller has done a really good job in the U.S. Senate,” Bill Stepien, the White House political director, said in an interview. “It’s not an easy place to get elected. It’s not an easy place to get reelected.”
The lone Senate Republican fighting to hold a state carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, Heller that year wouldn’t say who he was voting for. After the “Access Hollywood” tape leaked, the senator famously said he was “100 percent against Clinton, 99 percent against Trump.”
Early in the Trump presidency, one Republican strategist here recalled the anger directed at the senator in conversations with local activists around the state. If Heller remained on that path, “it would have been curtains,” former Republican Nevada Gov. Bob List said.
Heller stood alongside Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval in announcing his opposition to Obamacare repeal legislation. In July 2017, Trump jokingly threatened Heller by noting “he wants to remain a senator” in reference to whether Heller would vote for the Republican plan.
But in private sessions working with him on alternative health care legislation proposed by Graham and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Trump and Heller got to know each other better, aides said. Their work grew more serious when Heller was in the thick of helping write and pass tax reform as part of the Finance Committee.
While the tax bill gave Trump and Heller something to tout, the aides said it was more narrowly focused bills — many on veterans issues — that cemented the association.
Finally, last fall, Heller said in a statement to The Nevada Independent that he did end up voting for Trump. “I think he sensed that people appreciate the administration, and he knows he’s on the right side when he’s in line with the president,” List said.
Nevada Democrats have sought to exploit the old tensions. Sarah Abel, press secretary for the state party, said Heller’s “total 180 flip-flop on Donald Trump is the perfect example of how he’s a self-serving career politician who will say anything if he thinks it helps him politically.”
Trump, for his part, acknowledges the rocky start he and Heller had. In June, he said they went from “shaky” to “rock solid.” At his Las Vegas rally with Heller in September, Trump spoke about the transition from disliking to respecting and then liking one another.
“Then,” Trump added, “we started to love each other.”
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Josh Hawley has criticized Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill repeatedly for using a private plane to travel around Missouri. But the Republican Senate hopeful isn’t above taking a ride in a private plane himself.
Hawley received an in-kind contribution of more than $5,225 for a charter flight in September on a plane owned by lobbyist Travis Brown and his wife, according to public records. Hawley attended a West Virginia fundraiser on that day, social media posts show, before returning to Springfield, Missouri that night – and posting a Facebook video of him driving into the city for a rally with President Donald Trump the next day.
Brown is a registered lobbyist in Missouri, whose clients include the St. Louis Blues hockey team and wealthy businessman Rex Sinquefield, a Hawley donor who’s linked to a state-level effort to permit medical marijuana use. The plane Hawley flew in, a Pilatus PC-12/47, is registered to Brown’s business address, and flight records show it leaving Missouri for West Virginia on Sept. 20 and returning later that night.
Hawley also reported charter plane expenses of $8,732 for a flight in August and three flights in September in campaign finance disclosures. It is unclear who owned those planes or where Hawley went; his campaign declined to provide details about the flights.
Hawley has slammed McCaskill for using her own private plane during the campaign. In particular, he blasted the senator after she flew between stops on two days what she had billed as an RV tour of the state, calling her “out of touch.”
A spokeswoman for Hawley’s campaign, Kelli Ford, said that Hawley’s use of “a single engine propeller plane” for the travel to and from West Virginia is unrelated to his rebuke of McCaskill’s use of her family-owned plane.
“Josh’s criticism of Senator McCaskill’s use of her personal plane is threefold: 1) she secretly flew when she said she was on an RV, 2) she claims ‘normal’ middle class people own private planes, 3) she won’t release her family tax returns so voters can understand how she can afford to own a plane,” Ford said in an email.
But McCaskill campaign spokeswoman Meira Bernstein said that Hawley’s own plane ride shows his insincerity.
“As if Missourians needed more evidence that Hawley is beholden to his billionaire backers. There’s no hypocritical level to which Hawley won’t stoop,” she said.
The private plane used by McCaskill and owned by her husband, Joseph Shepard, is the same model that Hawley used in September, a Pilatus PC-12/47, according to reports dating back to his purchase of the aircraft in 2013. In 2011, facing a controversy that threatened her reelection, McCaskill reimbursed the Treasury Department for more than $88,000 in charter air flights in 2011 and repaid nearly $300,000 in back taxes on an older plane she later sold. Afterward, McCaskill vowed to pay personally for any travel she took on the new plane bought by Shepard’s company.
Even as he took aim at her use of the private plane, Hawley has said he would be fine with the trips if McCaskill would just “own it.” He also has challenged her to stop using the plane for a month as the two duke it out in one of the midterm’s most hotly contested Senate races.
“I say, ‘Look, I’m driving everywhere, why don’t you drive?’” Hawley said in a July interview. “She can’t do it. She’s totally addicted to her luxury lifestyle. This is the thing, she talks about, ‘Oh, I want to spend all this time on the trail.’ She doesn’t spend that much time on the trail. She flies everywhere.”
Republicans have dubbed McCaskill “Air Claire,” shadowing her at events and waving air traffic control wands. But McCaskill has continued to use her family’s plane during the campaign. The two-term incumbent says most people running for statewide office in Missouri charter planes, as do most senators.
“It’s a way I can contribute to my campaign personally in a way that’s meaningful. It doesn’t take away from our budget for our other things. And it allows us to get more places,” McCaskill said in an interview this July. “I’m not aware of very many candidates for the U.S. Senate or governors in this state that haven’t used a chartered plane.”
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Bernie Sanders can still draw a crowd.
Touching off a nine-state midterm election blitz here Friday, rally-goers clad in T-shirts from Sanders’ 2016 campaign cheered as the independent senator from Vermont reprised his progressive credentials on student debt, health care and the minimum wage. And they jeered along with Sanders as he mocked Trump — a prelude to a potential 2020 campaign.
“Now Trump, he’s a very, very tough guy,” Sanders told about 3,000 people in this college town. “He’s a very, very strong guy when he tears little children at the border from the arms of their mothers. What a tough guy. But he ain’t such a tough guy when he has to deal with Putin … He is not such a tough guy when he has to deal with his billionaire friends in Saudi Arabia, who just tortured and murdered a courageous journalist.”
No longer the curiosity that he was when he entered the 2016 presidential primary — with his then-meager fundraising base and Hillary Clinton’s near-inevitability staring him down — Sanders now wields one of the most coveted email lists of progressive voters and donors in the country. He owns a national profile that most of his potential rivals have yet to develop.
And while Sanders may run into a buzz-saw as early as Saturday, when he visits the less hospitable early primary state of South Carolina, he proved here Friday that he remains a popular force on the left.
The rally — and a brisk march that Sanders led from the rally to a voting center blocks away — opened Sanders’ nine-state blitz ahead of the midterms, with planned appearances in the early 2020 nominating states of Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina. But his first and last appearances, in Indiana and California later this month, are freighted with significance, as well: Sanders won the Indiana primary in an upset in 2016, and his prospects in 2020 would rely on a large delegate haul in California, where Sanders campaigned for weeks in his losing race to Clinton.
Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ 2016 campaign manager and closest political adviser, said Friday that he does not know whether Sanders will run in 2020.
But caught up in the throng of supporters surrounding Sanders as he led supporters to the voting center — with the crowd spilling from the sidewalk onto the street — Weaver said, “From my perspective, this is an auspicious start.”
By the end of his tour, Sanders will have visited 32 states since the 2016 election. He has raised about $1.8 million for fellow candidates, with that total to exceed $2 million by the end of the election cycle.
“Back in the  primaries, just prior to that, people almost thought we were conspiracy theorists,” said Laurie Cestnick, a former Sanders campaign volunteer and founder of Occupy DNC Convention, which held dozens of protests during the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Now, she said, “I think the awareness [of Sanders] is just there, where it wasn’t before … I think he has a far greater chance.”
If he runs in 2020, the challenges will be stiff. In part because of Sanders’ prodding on issues ranging from health care to the minimum wage, the Democratic Party has shifted closer to his leftist profile since the 2016 election, and Sanders will almost certainly face opposition from other high-profile progressives.
“It’s a different environment for him: The landscape for progressive Democrats has shifted pretty substantially, and largely in our favor,” said . But at the same time, there’s more room” for other progressive candidates to run.
In the run-up to the 2016 election, Democracy for America was part of an unsuccessful effort to recruit Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to run for president, before ultimately endorsing Sanders. This year, Warren is poised to enter the race, and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the only senator to endorse Sanders in 2016, is mulling a run.
While Charles Chamberlain, DFA’s current executive director, said his members’ support for Sanders is “definitely strong,” he added, “Will he be the choice of our membership for the presidential race? I think that’s an open question.”
In 2016, Chamberlain said, “It was [Sanders] versus Clinton. What we’re going to be looking at in  is Bernie Sanders versus 20 other people.”
In an expansive 2020 presidential field, Sanders is likely to be squeezed not only by progressive rivals, but by many moderate Democrats who continue to keep their distance from him. Earlier this week in Indiana, Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly cut a campaign ad criticizing “socialists” and “the radical left” for positions on health care and immigration, while moderate Democrats in South Carolina, where Sanders will be on Saturday, have responded tepidly to his pre-election tour.
“If Bernie wants to run again, as he is definitely thinking about, then it’s clear that he has to approach it differently than he did the first time,” Hasan said. “I think the first time, he really kind of made it about, ‘There’s two visions of the Democratic Party: progressive and not,’ and that was kind of his singular analysis.”
Now, Hasan said, “One of the things that he’s really come to learn is that there are so many different factions and flavors of the Democratic coalition.”
In addition to the three early nominating states that Sanders will visit, his tour will take him to Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Arizona, Colorado and California. The last stop is critical to his 2020 chances, with Sanders’ advisers believing the weeks he spent campaigning there in a losing effort in 2016 — effectively his last stand of the primary campaign — could pay off with a large delegate haul in 2020.
Sanders has used the midterm election cycle to lay groundwork for a 2020 campaign in subtler ways, as well. In recent months, he has expanded his focus on foreign policy — a perceived weakness in 2016 — articulating his brand of progressivism not only as a domestic matter, but as a vehicle to counter authoritarianism abroad. More significantly, he has used the midterm elections to align himself with several prominent African-Americans, whose lack of support in 2016 hobbled Sanders in the South.
This year, he has supported all three African-American Democrats running for governor in November. In addition to backing Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Ben Jealous in Maryland, Sanders delivered a crucial endorsement to Andrew Gillum, now Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee, when few thought Gillum could prevail in the primary.
Still, Sanders has a ways to go to overcome his landslide loss to Clinton in South Carolina and his failure to gain traction with African-American voters in the South.
Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina-based Democratic strategist who worked for Clinton’s campaign in 2016, said he’s doubtful Sanders can significantly expand his coalition.
“With the potential of several other candidates being African-American, and there’s some talk about a possible Latino or two to also be in the race, I think that presents a real challenge for Sen. Sanders and a lot of other people who are entering the race,” he said.
Sanders has demurred when asked about his 2020 plans, telling CNN recently that “we will see what happens.” But the effort to distinguish Sanders from the rest of the burgeoning Democratic field has been ongoing since the 2016 election, with Sanders’ supporters casting his economic populism as a 2020-ready alternative to Trump’s.
Larry Cohen, a former head of the Communications Workers of America who now chairs the board of Our Revolution, a political offshoot of Sanders’ 2016 campaign, said that in 2016, “Working people weren’t feeling listened to.”
“Bernie was [listening], and Bernie is,” Cohen said. “He’s authentic, in terms of decades of saying working people matter … People may not agree with him, but they don’t doubt he means what he says.”
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