US Politics

Bernie Sanders' political future in doubt

Bernie Sanders speaks at the Capitol in Washington, DC. Source: Getty

Bernie Sanders is the most prominent presidential contender to face a serious setback in the nascent 2020 campaign season.

Allies of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders are rallying behind the embattled presidential prospect, even as they reluctantly begin to ponder a painful possibility: a 2020 presidential field without him.

The 77-year-old self-described democratic socialist is the most prominent presidential contender to face a serious setback in the nascent 2020 campaign season.

He's been forced to confront a series of reports detailing allegations of sexual harassment of women by male staffers when he ran for president in 2016.

Sanders' loyalists fully expect him to launch a second campaign in the coming weeks. And his broad network of die-hard supporters is hosting hundreds of events across the nation this weekend encouraging him to run.

But the persistent allegations put Sanders in an unenviable political position in the early days of a presidential contest playing out in a #MeToo era that's offered little mercy for those associated with allegations of sexual harassment.

While his Democratic competitors tour crucial states and scope out potential campaign headquarters, Sanders spent Thursday apologising for the behaviour of a handful of his 2016 staffers and looking for a new ones to run his 2020 operation should he enter the race.

Bernie Sanders has been embroiled in controversy.
Bernie Sanders has been embroiled in controversy.
Getty

Some Sanders allies expressed shaken confidence in the political future of the man who has reshaped Democratic politics in recent years and almost single-handed brought liberal priorities like "Medicare for all" and free college education into the party's mainstream.

"If he doesn't run, there's a massive void in this country," said RoseAnn DeMoro, an activist and former executive director of the National Nurses United union, who reiterated her support for Sanders.

"The passion in that base goes away. That base evaporates. It doesn't go to someone else. There would be a void so deep it would go to (President Donald) Trump, I suspect."

Politico reported on Wednesday that in July 2016, a former senior adviser forcibly kissed a young female staffer after making sexually explicit comments.

Sanders' team said the adviser, who denies the allegation, would not be involved in a second campaign should there be one; and former campaign manager Jeff Weaver, who was aware of some of the incidents, would not serve as campaign manager again.

No one has alleged Sanders knew of the incidents.

"Obviously, it's impacted all of us quite a bit. It's very upsetting," said Heather Gautney, executive director of Our Revolution, the political arm of Sanders' network.

"Bernie is holding the flank on the left. If he doesn't run for president, then the whole horizon shifts, and universal health care maybe gets taken off the table," Gautney said.

"In my view, he is an absolutely necessary part of our political system."

Having nearly beaten Hillary Clinton in the 2016 contest, Sanders boasts an engaged nationwide network, an incredible grassroots fundraising ability, and would almost certainly take some of the voters being courted by likely 2020 contenders such as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke.

Former Sanders' staffer Giulianna Di Lauro Velez, who alleged she was harassed during the 2016 campaign, wrote on Thursday that sexual harassment is prevalent in many political campaigns. But she wrote that new allegations on Sanders 2016 campaign indicate "the depth of the problem was likely deeper than most knew."

She called on Sanders to "take the rare step of setting up an independent investigation into the 2016 allegations."

Earlier in the day, Sanders apologised, as he did last week, for the harm done under his watch and offered a direct message to women affected.

"I thank them from the bottom of my heart for speaking out. What they experienced was absolutely unacceptable and certainly not what a progressive campaign - or any campaign - should be about," Sanders said.

Sanders' critics in the Democratic Party - and many remain three years after his heated feud with Clinton - seized on the new revelations as reason to abandon any 2020 plans.

"These allegations inform us that Bernie is really not concerned about the wellbeing of women. And therefore, he would not represent us well as the president," said Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organisation for Women.

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