If Sanders Runs, How Long Could His Candidacy Last?

Feb 27, 2015

Sen. Bernie Sanders recently spoke at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C., about the key issues facing the country. It was also an opportunity for Sanders to outline the priorities he would pursue if he decides to run for president.

The big question is, will he run? And if he does, will he be a candidate in the democratic primary?

Eric Davis, retired Middlebury College political science professor, joined Vermont Edition to examine these questions.

Does Sanders' recent appearance at the Brookings Institute mean he is serious about running for president? Davis thinks so. “He’s also been spending time traveling to early primary and caucus states, particularly Iowa and New Hampshire. All of these things added together indicate to me that he’s very seriously testing the waters and may very well declare himself a candidate for president later this year,” Davis says.

"He's also been spending time traveling to early primary and caucus states, particularly Iowa and New Hampshire. All of these things added together indicate to me that he’s very seriously testing the waters and may very well declare himself a candidate for president later this year." - Eric Davis, retired Middlebury College political science professor

Davis says there are a few factors that will determine whether or not Sanders chooses to run. “The main thing is whether he can generate enough grassroots support and enough financial support from small contributions,” Davis says. He explains that Bernie has demonstrated in his past races for the Senate that he is able to raise over $1 million in small contributions from donors all across the country.

“He would try to replicate that method in funding his presidential campaign. Not to rely on PACs [political action committes], not to rely on corporate donations, not to rely on donations from wealthy individuals, but $10, $20, $50 or $100 contributions. And I believe there is a substantial amount of people out there who would contribute to his campaign,” says Davis.

"Not to rely on PACs, not to rely on corporate donations, not to rely on donations from wealthy individuals, but $10, $20, $50 or $100 contributions. And I believe there is a substantial amount of people out there who would contribute to his campaign."

Davis thinks that Sanders would want to do well enough that he’s not an embarrassment. “I think he realizes that Hilary Clinton has all sorts of advantages and resources,” Davis says. “But at the same time he doesn’t want to see her win the nomination through a coronation, that she should go through a competitive process.”

Sanders is testing to see whether he can generate enough interest in the issues that he finds important, Davis says, to be a credible opponent for Hilary Clinton in debate states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. One of those issues is income inequality. “While he says these trends have been exacerbated since the end of the great recession, they’ve really been in place for about 20 years, interestingly, since Bill and Hilary Clinton were first in the White House,” says Davis.

“Sanders argues that income inequality and the squeeze on the middle class threatens the American Dream … and that the corporate influence really raises questions about democracy in America. He sees those two as connected issues,” Davis says.

Although Sanders is an Independent, Davis says that if he chooses to run for president he will run as a Democrat. “He obtains support from outside the main political parties,” Davis says. “But he has also said he does not want to be a spoiler. He doesn’t want to do anything that would contribute to the election of a right-wing Republican presidential candidate, and there is a danger that running as an Independent in the general election can do that.”

"He has also said he does not want to be a spoiler. He doesn't want to do anything that would contribute to the election of a right-wing Republican presidential candidate."

National press reports indicate that although Clinton is likely to run, Davis says, she will probably delay announcing her candidacy until the summer. “Sanders would prefer she get in earlier so debates can start to be held and he can be on a platform with her,” Davis says.

Davis says the argument could be made that if Clinton has to debate Sanders, along with other potential Democratic candidates, it could make her a stronger presidential candidate in the general election. “If Sanders and one or two other people are up on the platform with her, it’s going to force her to defend her ideas, articulate them and arguably be a better candidate in the fall than she would be without this sort of opposition and competition in the primary,” says Davis.

"What he's opposing is the approach to politics ... He is not attacking Hilary Clinton as an individual, but the policies for which she and her supporters in the Democratic Party stand."

Sanders points out he’s never run a negative advertisement in all his years running for the House and Senate, and Davis says as an individual, Sanders admires Hilary Clinton. “What he’s opposing is the approach to politics … He is not attacking Hilary Clinton as an individual, but the policies for which she and her supporters in the Democratic Party stand,” Davis says.

Davis thinks that Sanders will clearly have a more restrained foreign policy than Hilary Clinton. “I think he would bring it back up in the context of President Obama’s recent request for a new authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State,” Davis says.

"I would not be surprised if Bernie Sanders were to defeat Hilary Clinton in the Vermont primary in March of 2016."

So, what does Davis’ gut tell him? “My guess is he will run,” Davis says. “He’ll concentrate particularly on Iowa and New Hampshire … and then I think the question becomes how much staying power does his campaign have after that.” Davis thinks Sanders would like to remain in the race through the Vermont primary, which will be on Town Meeting Day in 2016.

“I would not be surprised if Bernie Sanders were to defeat Hilary Clinton in the Vermont primary in March of 2016,” Davis says.