A new generation of Bernie Sanders-inspired political candidates is committing to run for state and local office, the campaign claims, a development some analysts say could shape liberal politics for decades to come – as the senator makes moves to exit the 2016 stage.
While not suspending his presidential campaign yet, the Vermont senator has spent the last two weeks encouraging like-minded Americans to run, be it for school board, city council, state legislature or higher.
A day after he first made that call in a June 16 online address, his campaign said 6,700 supporters expressed interest in running; the number was nearly 11,000 counting those interested in volunteering. A week later at a New York City rally, Sanders said the number of those prepared to run or volunteer had risen to 20,000.
“We are just getting started,” Sanders declared Thursday.
The campaign has not shared the identities of those signing up on the Sanders website, and it’s unclear how many of them truly would make the leap from Sanders supporter to political candidate.
Democratic strategists, though, claim the Sanders “revolution” is far from over, even as Hillary Clinton prepares to claim the nomination at next month’s convention.
“'Remember the Bern' will be a chant that will echo through decades in American politics,” said Ryan Clayton, executive director of Wolf-PAC – a progressive group pushing a constitutional amendment to overhaul campaign finance, one of Sanders’ primary goals.
Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist and CEO of Bannon Communications Research, told FoxNews.com the enthusiasm Sanders has generated suggests a movement with staying power. He pointed to the activism that kicked up after Richard Nixon’s 1972 re-election.
“If you look at those working in progressive politics now, the older ones came in after [Democratic nominee] George McGovern’s campaign in ’72,” Bannon said. “McGovern lost, but he galvanized a whole generation of Democratic and progressive activists who are still involved in politics even now. I think you’ll see the same with Bernie Sanders.”
He cast doubt on the idea that Sanders would remain a key figure, however, noting McGovern also faded shortly after his failed bid for the White House.
Sanders has predicted as much, telling supporters on Thursday the “revolution” is not about him.
“It is about millions of people getting involved in the political process in a way that we have never seen in the modern history of this country,” Sanders said, again urging people to run for state and local office. His campaign estimates roughly 900 state legislative seats were lost to Republicans since 2009, and is pinning hopes on supporters to win them back.
“We need to get people involved in running for office at every level,” Sanders told C-SPAN.
Republicans are determined to hold the ground they’ve gained, however.
Earlier this month, the Republican State Leadership Committee and other conservative groups issued a study on millennial voters in a bid to figure out how to better connect with them, claiming they remain supportive of “conservative solutions” communicated in the right way.
And despite party concerns about presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s impact on down-ballot races, Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt predicted this past week that Trump could actually help state Republican legislative candidates.
Sanders has attracted millions of those millennial voters with his message railing against a “rigged” system that leaves too many behind. But his proposals – for free college, a $15 federal minimum wage, a single-payer health care system and more – remain controversial, in large part because of the sheer cost of implementing some of these programs at a time when the national debt approaches $20 trillion.
Whether like-minded candidates could win broad support at the local level remains to be seen.
James Haslam, of the Vermont-based Rights and Democracy, said he’s already seeing Sanders supporters running for local offices down the ballot in his state, and hopes that will increase in the next cycle.
Bannon cautioned the impact may not be felt at the national level right away. But he predicted Sanders-ites will work their way up.
“Some will run for local office, then in a few years they’ll run for the state legislature, then eventually Congress,” Bannon said. “If you go ahead 10-15 years and look at the people on the Democratic and progressive side running the show, I’ll bet you a lot of money a lot of them will be Sanders supporters – and it will have a crucial impact on American politics.”