Amid a swirl of speculation about Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and practically everyone else under the sun as potential Democratic presidential contenders, most of the political class is ignoring the elephant in the room. Bernie Sanders is, by some measures the most popular politician in America, by far Democrats' most in-demand public speaker, and the most prolific grassroots fundraiser in American history.
If he were 10 or 20 years younger, his absence from a 2020 cattle call held by the Center for American Progress back in May would have been glaring. As things stood, the whisper among everyone in the halls was simply that he's too old and obviously won't run.
But make no mistake: Sanders is the real 2020 Democratic frontrunner.
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He's doing exactly what a candidate who fell short needs to do to run a second time. He's established a national political organization, he's improved his ties with colleagues on Capitol Hill, he's maintained a heavy presence in national media, and he's traveling the country talking about issues.
In subtle ways he's shifted his policy commitments to the center, making himself a more broadly acceptable figure in the party. At the same time, he's held on to a couple of signature issues — Medicare-for-all and tuition-free public college — that give him exactly the kind of clear-cut and broadly accessible agenda that mainstream Democrats lack.
Of course, if he were to run and win, he'd be 78 years old, the oldest president on record by some margin. And maybe he won't run. But his recent moves suggest that he is both interested in the nomination and very much the candidate to beat for it.