May 6, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Inside Bernie Sanders' decision to run again

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks before U.S. President Joe Biden takes the stage on Earth Day at Prince William Forest Park on April 22, 2024 in Triangle, Virginia.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks before President Biden takes the stage on Earth Day at Prince William Forest Park on April 22 in Triangle, Va. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is not ready to step away from the national political stage without a clear successor to his progressive throne, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Sanders' decision to run for a fourth Senate term at the age of 82 makes clear that he doesn't see anyone ready to pick up the mantle as the vanguard of the American left.

  • The question of whether anyone could fill his role as the leading progressive voice in Washington was a top consideration for Sanders, according to Faiz Shakir, a top Sanders adviser.
  • Sanders still sees a number of ways to pick up key victories for the progressive movement over the next few years.

Zoom in: The compounding international crises and upcoming domestic fights over politics and policy means that for Sanders, this is when his voice may be needed the most.

  • Sanders has been the leading voice in Congress raising concerns about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the harshest critic of the Israeli government.
  • Shakir, who managed Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign and is still a senior adviser, said the senator also sees himself playing a role in the 2024 presidential election.
  • Sanders can reach 2024 voters on economic issues, which some in the Democratic Party don't communicate as effectively, Shakir argued.

Sanders wants to continue as the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and if Democrats can hold onto their Senate majority, is eyeing progressive victories that were cut out of the first Biden administration.

  • Lawmakers who were key roadblocks to some of those progressive goals, like Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah), will not be in the chamber after this year.

That doesn't mean that Sanders is not high on the potential of younger progressives who have swept into Congress on his coattails in recent years.

  • In fact, former Sanders staffers have made moves in recent years to work for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who many see as the obvious successor as the top voice on the left.
  • And Sanders is close to Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.), a progressive who is one of the top choices to replace him in the Senate.

But if Sanders were to leave, there is no "natural follow up leader who could have the same power" as the Vermont senator, Shakir said.

  • For her part, Balint told Axios that she encouraged Sanders to run again.
  • "I just got here and I'd like to be good at my job," Balint said, alluding to a possible future Senate run.
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