Has Bernie Sanders inspired a new wave of politicians?
On Tuesday, first-time candidates inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders's bid for president will run for office. Has his progressive legacy taken root in American politics?
Allyse Pulliam/Times Herald-Record/AP
Does the Bernie Sanders 2016 "revolution" have staying power?
One answer may come on Tuesday, as first-time candidates, who still "feel the Bern," run for a range of political posts.
The longtime Vermont senator's loss to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton left some of his supporters feeling jaded with the electoral system. In July, some rallied for him at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia, claiming they planned to desert the party in favor of third party candidates or write-in votes. As young voters championed his ideas and the Democratic platform swayed a little to the left to incorporate his policies, debates about how Mr. Sanders’s campaign, which garnered enthusiasm across the nation, would impact the race and the next four or eight years in the Oval Office have already begun.
But others say the "political revolution" is far from over and have heeded his calls to take part by running their own campaigns for city offices, state legislative positions, and even Congress.
"It isn’t unusual for that to happen when a candidate that comes up is just so invigorating," Tammy Vigil, a Boston University professor who specializes in campaign rhetoric, tells The Christian Science Monitor. "Especially for younger people who hadn’t even thought about a career in politics. He touted himself as a different kind of politician. His public persona is very down to earth."
Some Sanders voters who felt compelled by the senator's cause have floated the ideas of launching campaigns in the future. As the Monitor reported at the DNC, Sanders's supporters flocked from around the country to protest Mrs. Clinton's victory or celebrate the success of his unconventional grass-roots campaign. Jocelyn McGerty, a nurse from New York, said at the time that the campaign had pushed her to consider a career shift that would include a run for Congress.
"I might. I don’t know yet. I mean, at least it’s a shot in the right direction. I might, I don’t know. It’s an idea," she said.
Others have put that same idea to action.
Our Revolution, a nonprofit that aims to carry out Sanders’s ideas and legacy, has already vetted and backed more than 100 candidates for offices around the nation who are running on platforms that adopt concepts from the senator’s presidential bid. A minority are incumbents, and many are taking on opponents who receive money from corporate donors.
Since officially launching in August, the organization has received thousands of inquiries from Sanders supporters about running for office.
In turn, the organization – and Sanders himself – has been throwing support behind grass-roots candidates who espouse the same independent streak as Sanders. Take Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham University who is running for a New York seat in Congress. Ms. Teachout first attracted the interest of voters in 2014 when she ran a surprisingly successful campaign as a political newcomer against Andrew Cuomo in New York's gubernatorial Democratic primary. The author of "Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's snuff box to Citizen United," she also previously worked with Occupy Wall Street.
"When it comes to taking on corruption and special interests, there's no one like Zephyr," Sanders said in a campaign email endorsing her. "She literally wrote the book on political corruption, and the Supreme Court justices who opposed Citizens United cited that work in their dissent."
There are also candidates running for local government who could implement his ideas about income inequality, such as Heidi Harmon. As a first-time candidate for mayor of San Luis Obispo, Calif., she’s expected to pose a serious challenge to an incumbent fellow Democrat.
"I just thought, 'This is what Bernie suggested. This is what Bernie is asking us to do,' " she told ABC News of her post-DNC decision to launch a campaign. While she isn’t one of the candidates backed by Our Revolution, Ms. Harmon has played a role as an environmental activist in the city of 45,000 for the past 30 years and felt compelled to bring Sanders’s ideas to her own city.
"If we really care that much, then going home and getting mad, well, hopefully that will be short and hopefully people will use those feelings of frustration and concern to get engaged," she said.
In many ways, these campaigns are direct reflections of Sanders’s rhetoric, as he continuously emphasized the importance of acting together to change Washington and eradicate inequalities within the wealth system.
"What my job is," he told The Washington Post in July of 2015, "is to help bring people together. You know, we’re not going to change the world overnight."
Some observers note a difference between Republican nominee Donald Trump's legacy as a political change agent and Sanders' legacy.
Sanders advocated for "changing the system from within and making our own contributions to the system, as opposed to Trump who seems to be selling more of contempt for the system and that there’s no fix for it unless he wins," Dr. Vigil says. "Bernie Sanders was a, 'We can come together to do this.' Whereas Donald Trump has said many times over, 'I am the only person who can fix it.' "
Whereas Sanders gave people hope to rewrite their current situation, Trump has attacked the political system with vitriol that has caused some of his voters to become disenchanted with the GOP and the electoral process. Some worry if his supporters, 43 percent of whom believe a Trump loss will prove the system is "rigged," will react with violence if the results aren’t in their favor.
While Sanders's popularity – and the arrival of a few more candidates in offices who back his policies – won't dictate an immediate rewriting of the Democratic Party platform, his influence may have the potential to reshape some aspects of the system.
"This could be a legacy in that if you want to shift the party, the party is not just running candidates for president," Robert Shapiro, a professor of political science at Columbia University, tells the Monitor. "The party is a party that runs candidates for offices."
While the staying power of Sanders’s legacy will likely depend on the success of progressive policies, the state of the economy, and how he remains relevant in supporting other candidates, it’s possible that his rapport with a segment of American voters could last beyond this election.
"Sanders was able to shift the Democratic Party to the left if you look at the impact of him and his delegates," Dr. Shapiro says. "This could be a significant legacy."