When, on April 30, 2015, outside the Capitol, Bernie Sanders unofficially formalizes his candidacy to the Democratic primaries against Hillary Clinton, the information elicits so little interest in traditional media that the New York Times relegates it, in its edition the next day, to the 21e page. Nearly four years later, the Vermont Senator has changed his stature, not to mention a galaxy. And his bid for the 2020 primaries, the process from which Donald Trump's future rival will emerge, is now one of America's television and daily newspapers.

"I am a candidate for the presidency for two basic reasons," said mornin 'morning Bernie Sanders in an interview with VPR, the public radio of his state of Vermont, to which he was keen to book the premiere of his ad. "The first, he said, it is that the current occupant of the White House is a shame for our country. He is a pathological liar. He is racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic. "

The second reason put forward by the senator: the progressive ideas that he has been defending for a long time (universal public medical insurance, minimum wage at 15 dollars an hour, free public university), and many, at the 2016 primaries , judged "Radical and extreme", are now much more popular. "We have started the political revolution in 2016. It is time to move this revolution forward and ensure that these ideas are put in place", added former rival Hillary Clinton.

Here is Bernie again, his eternal tousled white hair, his gruff and frumpy look, his Brooklyn accent and his legendary outspokenness. The appearance of the revolutionary papy has not moved an iota, any more than his political DNA, prodigious constancy within a ruling class too often versatile. Sanders, first as mayor, then deputy and senator, delivers the same speeches, carries the same causes for nearly four decades: defense of workers and civil rights, fight against inequalities in taxation and wages, ecological transition, establishment of a universal public health system.

If, personally, Sanders seems unalterable, much has changed between Bernie 2015 and today. To begin with its notoriety: "When he went on campaign at the time, only 3% of Americans had heard of him. According to some surveys, Bernie is now the most popular political figure in the country, summed up Richard Eskow, writing Sanders' speeches during the 2016 campaign.

While the 2020 Democratic primary promises to be historically busy, with a dozen candidates already declared and as many prospective, the reputation of Sanders offers him a clear advantage, according to Eskow: "An unsung candidate is vulnerable because he runs the risk of his opponents defining his image even before voters have come to know him. Many suitors have this problem, Bernie does not have it anymore. "

"Great confidence"

In addition to its notoriety, the senator of Vermont has another undeniable asset: a national network and fed of supports which, for many, waited impatiently for the entry in the lists of their idol to mobilize again. With their time and energy, they took Sanders' first presidential candidacy to unexpected heights, pushing the Clinton ultrafavorite war machine along.

"Most of the activists were both volunteers in the field, donors and media relays active, broadcasting on social networks a counter-speech to traditional media", says Clément Pairot, a French volunteer in the Bernie Sanders campaign in the first half of 2016. This enthusiasm has allowed the candidate to break a record of individual donations: 228 million dollars, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, at a rate of average donation of $ 27.

The high degree of engagement of Sanders fans has been boosted by a major innovation, the distributed organizing, consisting "To trust and delegate to volunteers, through various digital tools, important responsibilities, not just to run but to design, organize, and carry events", summarizes Clément Pairot. This highly decentralized system, replicated last year during the Beto O'Rourke campaign in Texas for the Senate, makes it possible to organize a multitude of local events and to arouse in the volunteers, who are entrusted with reserved privileges usually to professionals, a strong sense of attachment. "Bernie's supporters perceive his candidacy as a cause, and as the reflection of a movement that belongs to them as much as to him", Richard Eskow analysis.

Beyond this innovative campaign strategy, the main fuel of the "Bernie mania" remains the political positioning of the Vermont Senator. A radical socialist, he is proudly and fiercely independent. His refusal to officially join the Democratic Party, while seeking the investiture and seeking to reshape it in his image, irritates the most centrist. He assumes, as in June 2018 in the Washington Post : "According to polls I've seen, more people now consider themselves independent than Democrats or Republicans. There is not much love, frankly, for both parties. So I think it's not a bad idea to have someone say, "I understand, I'm independent […]. I want you, independents, to participate in the Democratic primaries to transform the Democratic Party. "

Favorite bib

The metamorphosis, in fact, has already begun. Although not all won, dozens of candidates incarnating the left wing of the party were elected in the mid-term elections in November. Including the well-publicized Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29 years old, new sensation of the House of Representatives, who assumes her "Radicalism" defends the taxation of the richest and the establishment of a "Green New Deal" to stimulate the ecological transition while fighting against inequalities. In 2016, she volunteered for Bernie Sanders.

The rise of progressive ideas is also reflected in the polls. For the first time, in August 2018, the Gallup barometer revealed that American Democrats had more faith in socialism (57%) than in capitalism (47%). The trend is also found among Americans aged under 30, of all political persuasions, who now prefer socialism (51%) to capitalism (45%).

Bernie Sanders knows: outsider in 2016 against a Hillary Clinton openly supported – against any logic of fairness – by the apparatus of the party, he enters this time in the race with a bib of favorite. In early December, on the TV set of Late Show, he summed up his reflection of the moment: "Do I think I'm the best candidate to help turn the country around and beat Trump?" His candidacy proves that he believes in it. Remains the hardest, convincing voters that it can be as much, if not more than four years ago, the man the United States needs.

His mission looks arduous, and his campaign inevitably very different from the previous one. Bernie gained notoriety but lost the appeal of novelty. He does not embody, as in 2016, the only alternative to Hillary Clinton, candidate unloved and rather boring, though experienced. Above all, even though he was the first, he is no longer the only one to carry the progressive ideology and ideas that are now on the agenda of many Democratic contenders.

"Outstanding energy"

"The dilution risk of the" progressive "label exists, admits Richard Eskow bluntly. Many candidates will take Bernie's ideas, because they are popular, without anyone knowing how sincere they are. He will have to find a way to distinguish himself from them. And I think he can do it, pointing out that his positions and values ​​have been the same for decades. "

For former French volunteer Clément Pairot, Sanders can also capitalize on his unwavering commitment to the Senate: "He continued the fight every day for three years, he has achieved victories, including the minimum wage at Amazon. In short, he stayed in the hearts of his former volunteers. "

Criticized for having, according to some, neglected minorities in 2016, the Vermont representative often defended them, stressing that his efforts to regulate Wall Street, stem inequalities and climate change were aimed at improving the lives of the most modest, where blacks and Latinos are overrepresented. Sanders has nevertheless learned the lessons and now expresses himself more easily on the subject.

"Racial equality must be central in the fight against economic inequality if we are to succeed in creating a government that works for all of us and not just for the richest 1%," he said. he said in a speech in South Carolina on January 21, during the Martin Luther King Day. Bernie Sanders, who was in the crowd in 1963 when King had pronounced in Washington his legendary "I have a dream," paid tribute to the figure of civil rights, "a revolutionary". Sign that his efforts to expand his base have borne fruit, Sanders now appears in the polls as the favorite candidate of minorities.

The same polls currently put two men at the top of the Democratic primaries: former Vice President Joe Biden, 76, and Bernie Sanders, 77. Two white men, experienced certainly but whose age is already debate, including among their supporters. "I love Bernie Sanders. I was a huge supporter in 2016. But if he is elected in 2020, he will be nine years older than the oldest president in history. Only seven presidents lived beyond the age that Bernie would have at the end of his first term. # Bernie2020 is a bad idea, wrote on Twitter the comedian Steve Hofstetter.

Richard Eskow, who has worked closely with the Vermont senator, claims to have been struck by his "Remarkable energy". "And for what it's worth, he concluded, Bernie looks much healthier than Trump. "

Frédéric Autran

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