Before Sen. Bernie Sanders sets out on the first campaign swing of his second presidential bid, he has some business to mind to in Washington.
On Monday night, Sanders will face questions from voters at a CNN town hall ahead of a dramatic week that will see President Donald Trump meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the public testimony of the President’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, and the expected unveiling of House Democrats’ new Medicare for all bill.
The Sanders campaign is barely a week old, but the forces that will either carry him to greater heights – starting with an electrified base of small dollar donors and, as of Sunday night, one million online pledges of support – or keep a lid on his appeal, are already making themselves heard. Trump’s re-election campaign welcomed Sanders to the race with three straight days of attacks wrapped in fundraising asks, warning that the Vermont independent’s ascendance would usher in an era of “full-blown socialism.”
There is a different conversation happening on the Democratic side, which been almost unerringly collegial as the candidates consider the political price – too hefty at this point – of being seen to undermine any potential future nominee. Sanders’ entry might have sparked anew old intra-party skirmishes on social media, but the contestants are still playing nice.
California Sen. Kamala Harris in a fundraising email last week wrote that she is “excited to welcome my friend and colleague (Sanders) to the growing field of incredible Democrats who have entered this race.” And the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has endorsed Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, greeted Sanders with a similar message and has since described him and Warren as a “one-two punch.”
Sanders laid down a marker in an email to surrogates this weekend, asking them to treat campaign rivals “respectfully” and reminding them that “many (of the primary candidates) have been friends and allies of mine in the Senate.”
“We will forcefully present our views and defend ourselves against misrepresentations,” Sanders wrote in a letter obtained by CNN and confirmed as authentic by a campaign aide. “But, let us do our very best to engage respectfully with our Democratic opponents - talking about the issues we are fighting for, not about personalities or past grievances. I want to be clear that I condemn bullying and harassment of any kind and in any space.”
Beneath the friendly chatter, though, fault lines that will ultimately separate the Democratic candidates are beginning to show. Both Harris and Warren have been adamant in interviews that they will not be tagged as socialists, despite sharing some of Sanders’ most ambitious policy priorities. In her CNN town hall last week, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is resisting the primary field’s push left, made it clear she didn’t believe programs like free four-year college were feasible.
“If I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone and we could afford it, I would,” Klobuchar said. She also dismissed – for now at least – the prospects of passing Medicare for all, instead pointing to her support for more moderate measures, like creating a “public option” for health insurance.
The broad strokes of Sanders’ message to voters in these early stages is nearly identical to what he pitched before, during and in the years since his surprising 2016 bid. But his campaign’s early moves suggest that, while his politics are unflinching, there is an understanding that his candidacy must look different in 2020.
His itinerary, which will take him to Brooklyn, New York, on Saturday, before Sunday stops in Selma, Alabama, to mark the anniversary of 1965’s “Bloody Sunday” march, and Chicago, where he graduated from college and was active in the Civil Rights movement, will play up his biography in a way that the 77-year-old rarely did the first time around.
“Sanders is the son of a Jewish immigrant from Poland and grew up in a small, rent controlled apartment in Flatbush,” his campaign said in a press release mapping out the trip. “He is a public school graduate of James Madison High School and attended Brooklyn College before graduating from the University of Chicago.”
In an interview, California Rep. Ro Khanna, a Sanders campaign co-chair and the first House member to endorse an out-of-state primary candidate, welcomed the higher expectations and mounting stakes.
“In 2016, Bernie Sanders ran to make a point. In 2020, he’s running to win,” Khanna said. “He understands that, for the sake of those (progressive) ideas, he’s got to win. It’s no longer just about getting them out there. He already got them out there. Now he’s gotta show that they’re winning ideas.”
The leadership team tasked with guiding Sanders to victory will also look different from four years ago.
Faiz Shakir, a progressive operative who has worked with top Democrats like former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi when she was the House Minority leader, will be his new campaign manager, replacing Jeff Weaver.
“We are playing to win,” Shakir told CNN last week, another early indication of the evolving mindset of Sanders’ team. Along with Shakir, former Reid aides Ari Rabin-Havt and Josh Orton, who came on earlier, are also expected to play key roles in the campaign.
“All these people working for Bernie, I’m glad,” Reid, who has also spoken positively of Warren, told the Nevada Independent last week. “Bernie is one of my friends. He helped me get Obamacare passed. His vote was crucial. So I think the world of him.”
The campaign on Friday also introduced a slate of national co-chairs that included Khanna and Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Nina Turner, the president of Our Revolution, is taking leave from her job running the Sanders-inspired group to join the others in advising the campaign, along with longtime Sanders supporter Ben Cohen, the Ben & Jerry’s co-founder and activist.
The hiring of Shakir, who most recently served as the national political director for the American Civil Liberties Union — a job that put him in near constant, pitched conflict with the Trump administration — was a headline-grabbing first step in the recalibration of a political operation that Weaver, who will stay on as a senior adviser, has conceded was “too male and too white” in 2016.
“I think (Sanders) acknowledged that that he needed far greater diversity of perspective, both on racial and gender lines in his inner circle,” Khanna said. “And in this campaign, he’s surrounded with it.”
CNN’s Ryan Nobles contributed to this report