Bernie Sanders’s entry into the 2020 race amounts to a big stone in a lake: It will generate ripples that touch every other candidate. But his own path to the nomination remains rocky unless he can attract a broader coalition than he did in 2016.
Whether or not Sanders claims the nomination himself, his bid could have a big impact on which candidate eventually does. Sanders will hurt contenders whose support overlaps with his, reducing the pool of voters available for those who are targeting the same groups most drawn to him, particularly young people, the most liberal activists, and independents who participate in Democratic primaries. That dynamic would most obviously affect Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, but could also potentially weaken former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who’s mulling a bid. Yet it could simultaneously benefit the candidates with the least demographic and ideological convergence, a list that ranges from African American Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker to such relative centrists as Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and former Vice President Joe Biden, if he joins the field.
Sanders’s entry could also influence his competitors’ assessment of the earliest primary states, by causing other candidates to view the New Hampshire contest as a regional showdown between him and Warren. The state has a long history of favoring local contenders. “I can imagine candidates saying to themselves, Let the New England candidates fight it out over New Hampshire,” says Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political scientist and the author of Stormy Weather, a history of the New Hampshire primary.