Capri Cafaro: Sanders has Americans 'feeling the Bern' -- Here's why this man is unlikely leader of the pack

If Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is looking for a new campaign song, he may want to consider the oldie but goodie, “Leader of the Pack.”

Many, including myself, wondered if “Feeling The Bern” was just a fad amongst idealistic millennials or if Sanders had truly started a revolution that led to his progressive policies becoming mainstream. In 2016, Sanders was dismissed by many establishment Democrats as too radical to be taken seriously. While Sanders had served in Congress since 1990, he had also been defined as someone who, while true to his ideological principles, languished at the fringes and got nothing accomplished.

I think we can safely say, from where we sit today, Sanders, who spent his career identifying as an independent, has in fact started to mold the Democratic Party in his own progressive image. Bernie Sanders has officially gone from backbencher to front-runner.

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Sanders shows he is formidable through two key metrics: fundraising and polls. Sanders boasted over $18 million in the last round federal campaign finance filing. This is almost double former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke who brought in over $9 million. Sanders is a fundraising juggernaut, with nearly 60 percent of his contributions coming from individuals.

National and regional polls are also starting to show Sanders on top. A recent Emerson national poll of Democrats shows Sanders leading, edging out former Vice President Joe Biden. A University of New Hampshire poll of likely Democratic voters in New Hampshire has Sanders leaving his competition in the dust, with Biden a distant second 12 points behind Sanders.

While polls don’t tell the whole story, they certainly show a few trends. First, Bernie Sanders is a force to be reckoned with. And, second, Democrats seem to be favoring white men in a crowded field of diverse candidates. What’s even more fascinating is that Sanders is garnering the most support from Hispanic, Latino, African-American and female voters as well. This is in stark contrast to his 2016 run when he had a difficult time earning the support of African-American voters in key states like South Carolina.

To recap, Sanders has the most money and is leading in several polls. Let’s also add to that equation the 1-in-10 Sanders voters who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 general election. If Sanders can win those voters back, he could spell trouble for his Democratic rivals, and in theory, President Trump as well.

It is obvious that Sanders has momentum, but what I don’t get is how an over 70-year-old white guy who is not even a real Democrat has managed to capture the imagination of so many, especially younger voters. When there are so many candidates to choose from now, why pick Sanders out of the line up of a variety of progressive candidates?

Admittedly, Sanders has never been my cup of tea. So, I realize I may not be the best judge of why people “Feel The Bern.” But, I think I can identify a few reasons why Sanders has the upper hand in a way he did not four years ago.

  1. Sanders is the real deal of progressives in a sea of wannabe Bernies. Voters recognize the authenticity in his convictions especially when so many other candidates are now trying to co-opt the Sanders policy platform.
  2. People like free stuff. At least until they learn more about how free stuff is actually paid for. Medicare for All and tuition-free higher education are squarely in the category of free stuff Sanders advocates for.
  3. Sanders has the distinct advantage of a preexisting network of volunteers and donors from 2016 who have remained engaged and cultivated by Sanders' PAC, Our Revolution. No other candidate at this point has the kind of national infrastructure Sanders has. I don’t think Biden could replicate something similar.
  4. Sanders supporters helped reform Democratic National Committee rules in a way that could benefit Sanders and hurt Biden. In the absence of winner take all states and super delegates that usually align with the establishment; it’s anyone’s game. But, Sanders has the advantage of his aforementioned infrastructure to accrue a good number of proportionately allocated delegates throughout the primary and caucus process.

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Bernie may have a real shot to win the Democratic nomination this time. So, Democrats must ask themselves if they are ready to hand over the party to the progressives for good.