Bernie Sanders Makes a Campaign Mark. Now, Can He Make a Legacy? – New York Times

Congressional candidates who speak of “liberating the American underclass” are flush with campaign donations. The likely Democratic presidential nominee has not only moved to the left on a range of issues, but now routinely rails against the influence of “big money.”

There are plenty of signs that Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has left a mark on the political moment. But some liberal Democrats are beginning to worry that as Mr. Sanders continues his quest for the nomination, his chance to build a lasting legacy may be slipping away.

Liberals who remember watching with fear and awe how the Christian Coalition rose from the ashes of Pat Robertson’s 1988 campaign — using his mailing lists and leftover cash to build a grass-roots organization, publish conservative voter guides and promote candidates at every level — are asking when, or if, Mr. Sanders will help do the same for the left.

Far from laying the foundation to transform his campaign into a movement, Mr. Sanders is wrapped up in the race itself, sharpening his attacks on Hillary Clinton and demanding she debate him before the June 7 primary in California. And many of his supporters are following his cue.

In an ugly series of events this month that, if nothing else, showed how difficult they may be to herd, Sanders supporters disrupted the Nevada Democratic convention and later threatened the state party chairwoman in a fight over delegates.

“He has the greatest appeal of any progressive candidate we’ve seen probably since Teddy Roosevelt, but that has to be converted into an on-the-ground machine that delivers,” Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont who ran his own insurgent campaign for the Democratic nomination in 2004, said about Mr. Sanders. “There have to be candidates who are supported. There have to be issues that are put forward. There have to be opportunities to put pressure on legislators. That is not the same thing as a political campaign.”

Thus far, Mr. Sanders has offered little support for a broader progressive movement, beyond using his email list to solicit money for a handful of congressional candidates, including Washington State’s Pramila Jayapal, New York’s Zephyr Teachout and Nevada’s Lucy Flores.

Even if he does try to redirect the energy behind his candidacy into a new liberal organization, the task may not be easy. His campaign has brought together disparate individuals and volunteer groups that might be inclined to go their separate ways after the primary. His regular diatribes against the influence of big money in politics could make it awkward, if not impossible, for him to raise money from wealthy liberals.

And Mr. Sanders himself does not have a reputation for leadership; in Congress, he is seen as more of a lone wolf, known more for introducing symbolic legislation than for methodically building constituencies.

Mr. Sanders, who declined to be interviewed, has offered few hints about his post-primary plans, saying that he remains focused on winning the nomination, even taking the fight to the party’s convention in July.

A group of former Sanders campaign workers and volunteers circulated a document last week urging him to suspend his presidential bid after California, and to turn his attention to building a liberal organization whose first effort would be to help defeat the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump.

The group compared Mr. Sanders’s situation to that of Barack Obama after he energized millions of supporters during his 2008 campaign. They said that Mr. Obama subsequently failed to capitalize on the opportunity to change “the distribution of power” in America, and they warned that Mr. Sanders could wind up following in his footsteps if he does not move swiftly.

Calling it a crossroads, the authors wrote, “Does Bernie Sanders and his campaign facilitate the growing voice of a new generation of activists?”

“Or does he raise hell at a party convention and leave the remains of his organization to be picked over by groups on the left that, to date, have been mostly marginal to the broad majority of Americans and Sanders supporters alike?”

Few dispute that Mr. Sanders has already had an effect. His campaign has not only galvanized young voters, but also produced an invaluable email list, several million strong, of fervent activists and donors.

Mr. Sanders has inspired candidates pushing policies like tuition-free public colleges and universal health care, initiatives that were once regarded as radical but that now have the support of many millions of Americans. Echoing the senator’s fiery tone, Democrats from his wing of the party are regularly railing against billionaires, lamenting the disappearing middle class and demanding reforms to campaign finance laws.

Mr. Sanders has also created a road map for other insurgent candidates by eschewing “super PACs” and raising more than $212 million through small donations.

“The Sanders movement brought Occupy Wall Street into Democratic Party presidential politics,” said Jamie Raskin, a Maryland state senator running for Congress. “He occupied the Democratic primaries.”

Mr. Raskin, 53, is among those who have already benefited, winning his Democratic primary against a field that included David Trone, a self-funded multimillionaire who owns the nation’s largest independent wine retailer, and the former TV reporter Kathleen Matthews, whose husband, Chris, hosts “Hardball” on MSNBC.

So is Timothy Canova, 56, a law professor running an upstart campaign in Florida against Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Canova has raised more than $1 million — an average of $18.55 at a time — and has railed against his rival, saying she took money from large corporations and voted in favor of Wall Street banks.

“Bernie Sanders could disappear from the scene and what he has helped ignite is going to keep going on,” Mr. Canova said. Mr. Sanders has endorsed Mr. Canova and is using his prodigious email list to help him raise money.

A new organization that emerged from the Sanders campaign would not necessarily require his leadership. Many of the economic issues at the heart of his campaign have been bubbling up for years, finding expression in the protests of the Occupy movement and in the speeches of Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts.

And some of Mr. Sanders’s supporters are not waiting for him to act. One new initiative, Brand New Congress, is aimed at recruiting progressives to run against almost every incumbent Democrat and Republican up for re-election in 2018. A number of independent groups that supported Mr. Sanders are planning to meet next month in Chicago to discuss the future of the movement at a three-day conference they are calling the People’s Summit.

Indeed, if the movement is going to endure beyond the primary, the responsibility for driving it forward may fall less on Mr. Sanders than on the next generation of progressives.

“We need people running for school boards,” said Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who has endorsed Mr. Sanders. “We need people running for City Council. We need people running for state legislatures. We need people running for zoning boards, for park boards, to really take this sort of message that Bernie carried and carry it and lead it in their own local communities.”

Ralph Reed, the longtime executive director of the Christian Coalition, once spoke in similar terms, talking about creating a “farm team” of socially conservative candidates at every level of government.

“The Republican Party is manifestly more hard-line than it would be had the Christian Coalition never existed,” said the MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. “That’s what I thought would happen on the left with Obama in 2008, but it never did. It seems like Bernie has the same option, but he’s also not working on it.”

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