Bernie Sanders faces two big challenges as he enters the 2020 race

Image: Bernie Sanders
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a Get Out The Vote rally for Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed at Cobo Center in Detroit on Aug. 5, 2018. Copyright Jacob Hamilton Ann Arbor News via AP file
By Chuck Todd and Mark Murray and Carrie Dann with NBC News Politics
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First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.


WASHINGTON — For all of the strengths that Bernie Sanders brings to the still-developing 2020 field — name ID, a formidable email list, progressive bona fides — he faces two enormous challenges as he makes his presidential announcement this morning.

The first: Can he compete in a much more crowded liberal/progressive lane than he encountered in 2016? Four years ago, he opened this lane and showed the party that voters will come. But now he's got company - from progressive Elizabeth Warren, to the likes of Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, who are all running under the "Medicare for All" banner.

This isn't too different than what the Ron/Rand Paul family found out. In 2008 and then in 2012, Ron Paul opened the door to a much more libertarian message for the GOP. But by the time son Rand jumped into the presidential waters in 2016, other candidates had co-opted that message. (Of course, the un-libertarian in that field, Donald Trump, ended up winning the GOP nomination, though that's a story for another day.)

In other words, by winning the message war in 2016, Sanders could become an also-ran four years later — because the new presidential field sounds a lot more like him.

The second challenge for Sanders: Can he convince rank-and-file Democratic primary voters to move on from 2016, which is an election cycle many of them want to forget? Consider what happened:

  • It took Sanders 36 days to endorse Hillary Clinton after she became the presumptive Democratic nominee (by contrast, it took Hillary four days to endorse Barack Obama after he became the presumptive nominee in 2008).
  • Even after Sanders endorsed and campaigned for Clinton, some of his top surrogates and supporters (Cornel West, Susan Sarandon) ended up voting for Jill Stein over Clinton.
  • Robert Mueller has evidence about how Russian intelligence strategized with WikiLeaks on the hacked DNC emails to produce divisions inside the Democratic Party before its 2016 convention. "On or about July 6, 2016, Organization 1 added, 'if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after. The Conspirators responded, "ok … i see.' Organization 1 explained, 'we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary … so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.'"
  • And it worked: Sanders got booed by his own delegates at the convention in Philadelphia when he said that "we have got to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine."

Ask yourself: How many Democratic primary voters still get warm fuzzies thinking about all of that?

Both challenges for Sanders — a more crowded liberal lane and memories of 2016 - underscore this reality for the Vermont senator: The party has moved on and evolved from four years ago.

Can Bernie keep up?

Klobuchar: "I wish … I was a magic genie and could give [free college] to everyone"

While the liberal/progressive lane is much more crowded than it was in 2016, guess which lane isn't as crowded - at least right now?

The pragmatic middle.

Here was Amy Klobuchar getting a question about free college at last night's CNN town hall in New Hampshire: "I wish -- if I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone and we could afford it, I would. I'm just trying to find a mix of incentives and make sure kids that are in need -- that's why I talked about expanding Pell Grants -- can go to college and be able to afford it and make sure that people that can't afford it are able to pay."

And here she was on Medicare for All: "Well, I think it's something that we can look to for the future, but I want to get action now. And I think the best way we do that is something that we actually wanted to do back when we were looking at the Affordable Care Act and we were stopped, was trying to get a public option in there."

Call it the physics of politics: For every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction…

Re-upping our 2020 list

Who's in, who's out, and who we're still waiting on? With Bernie Sanders' announcement this morning, here's our updated list of who's in, who's out and who's still thinking about a 2020 run:

Those who have filed paperwork or announced presidential bids(10)

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (who announced on Feb 19)
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (who announced on Feb 10)
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (who formally announced on Feb 9)
  • Sen. Cory Booker (who announced on February 1)
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (who announced on January 21)
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (who announced her exploratory committee on January 15)
  • Former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julian Castro (who formally announced his decision on January 12)
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (who announced her decision to run on January 11)
  • Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney (who announced his presidential bid back on July 28, 2017!!!!)
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (who announced his exploratory committee on January 23)

The other potential candidates we're watching (in no particular order)

  • Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas
  • Former VP Joe Biden
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio
  • Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
  • Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe
  • Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.
  • Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.
  • Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass.
  • Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio

Possible 2020 Dems who have declined to run (5):

  • Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick
  • Attorney Michael Avenatti
  • Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley
  • Tom Steyer
  • Current Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti

16 states sue Trump over his national emergency — and they use his words against him

NBC's Jane Timm: "California, New York and 14 other states filed a lawsuit Monday challenging Donald Trump's national emergency declaration... Joining California in the suit are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai'i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Virginia."


Oh, and guess what's on page 30 of the lawsuit:

At a press conference announcing the Executive Actions, President Trump acknowledged that Congress provided more than enough funding for homeland security, and that the Administration has "so much money, we don't know what to do with it." In explaining his rationale for the Executive Actions, the President candidly admitted that the emergency declaration reflected his personal preference to construct the wall more quickly, rather than an actual urgent need for it to be built immediately: "I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this. But I'd rather do it much faster."(The emphasis is ours.)

A new NPR/PBS/Marist poll shows 61 percent of Americans disapproving of Trump's decision to declare a national emergency.

2020 Vision

Kamala Harris remains in New Hampshire, addressing the "Politics & Eggs" breakfast… John Delaney is in Iowa… And Howard Schultz stops in San Francisco on his book tour.

Data Download

$131,375. That's how much a Mark Harris-hired political consulting firm paid McCrae Dowless, the man who ran the mail-in ballot scheme that's now under investigation in the unresolved NC-9 congressional election.


NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell has more on what happened in North Carolina yesterday: "A key witness testified Monday that she engaged in fraudulent and illegal activity involving absentee ballots in a congressional race in North Carolina as part of a get-out-the vote operation to benefit the Republican congressional candidate in a race that is still unresolved."

"In frank testimony before the North Carolina State Board of Elections, Lisa Britt said that she was paid to collect absentee ballots in the 2018 election by McCrae Dowless, a political operative hired by consultants for Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris."

Tweet of the day

Trump Agenda: Rosenstein likely to step down in three weeks

Rod Rosenstein is likely to step down in three weeks.

Roger Stone is apologizing after posting an Instagram image that included a picture of the federal judge overseeing his prosecution and a crosshair.

The State Department is using video of the former embassy of Iran to send a message to Iranians.


Trump had harsh words for Venezuela over the military's resistance to allowing emergency aid into the country.

POLITICO looks at the relationship between Mitch McConnell's office and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, McConnell's wife.

There's a new movement to end the death penalty — and it's coming from Republicans.

Trump is adding staff to his 2020 campaign, including a trio of comms professionals.

2020: "Complete the revolution"

It's official: Bernie's in and calling on voters to "complete the revolution."


Here's a look at Sanders' policy priorities in 2020.

Kamala Harris says she is not "a democratic socialist."

Harris took questions about Jussie Smollett in New Hampshire yesterday. (She says "the facts are still unfolding.")

Mike Bloomberg is weighing how much he can count on his philanthropic network if he launches a presidential bid.

Amy Klobuchar is sticking to "aspirational" talk.


2020 hopefuls are courting Democratic freshmen already.

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