There may not be a surer sign Bernie Sanders is preparing for another White House run: the Vermont senator and independent socialist is making his final stop of the midterm campaign season in California. Politico reports Sanders has only recently scheduled a stop “in a noncompetitive House district in Oakland in late October.”
It’s another in a string of decisions by 2020 Democratic White House hopefuls, reporter David Siders notes, to make 2018 pilgrimages to the Golden State, which may end up having an outsized influence on selecting the party’s nominee. “It might not surprise you that he’s ending in California, considering that there may be a presidential campaign around the corner, and California’s going to be a very important state,” Mark Longabaugh, a senior adviser to Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign, told Politico.
I recently wrote about why California will become more than just a fundraising destination for Democratic presidential wannabes:
Last year, Democratic governor Jerry Brown signed a bill to move up the state’s presidential primary to March 3. That would put California on the first slate of “Super Tuesday” contests, exactly one month after the Iowa caucuses and just after the early primaries in New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. What’s more, the mail-in voting period in California begins about 30 days before any election. Since 2008 at least 58 percent of the state’s primary votes have come via the mail-in ballot, and so it’s likely the majority of California Democrats will be making their pick for the presidential nominee at the same time as Democrats in Dubuque and Nashua.
Another potential boon for California’s influence is the high number of possible presidential candidates from the state itself:
There’s also been something missing for a generation: credible presidential hopefuls from California. The only truly competitive one was Jerry Brown, who ran against Bill Clinton in 1992. What has California Democrats really buzzing about 2020 is that they may have several of their own to choose from.
It’s no secret that Kamala Harris, the freshman senator and progressive firebrand, wants to run for president. She’s building a proto-campaign infrastructure, cultivating a donor network, and making a name for herself in the national media. Yet despite being a fixture in Northern California Democratic politics for a couple of decades—she dated San Francisco mayor Willie Brown and was the city’s district attorney for seven years—and despite twice being elected the state’s attorney general, Harris doesn’t have nearly the same recognition statewide as titans like Dianne Feinstein and Jerry Brown. A Morning Consult poll earlier this year found 26 percent of registered voters in California said they didn’t know or had no opinion of their junior senator. The joke is that Harris’s presidential stock rises the farther you get from California.
But what about for Bernie Sanders? While the Sanders wing of the party has a foothold there as its party infrastructure and statewide candidates move left, it’s a big state with a lot of Democrats, and they aren’t all left-wing socialists. Hillary Clinton won the state over Sanders in 2016. She also won it relatively late in the primary process in 2008 over Barack Obama. There are reasons to believe Sanders may not be quite what California Democrats are looking for in a presidential candidate.
On the other hand, delegates are distributed proportionally, so even an impressive second-place showing in a crowded field could give Sanders the boost he would need to recapture the magic of his 2016 run.