Former Bernie Sanders Staffers Are Preparing to ‘Draft Bernie’ for 2020

The new group, Organizing For Bernie, will formally launch Monday with plans to “hit the ground running”

BURLINGTON, VERMONT Get ready to feel the Bern again. A movement to draft Bernie Sanders to run for president in 2020 is launching today, with the aim of building an organizational structure so the Vermont Senator can start campaigning at a moment’s notice.  

“We have two goals,” Rich Pelletier, one of the four main organizers of Organizing For Bernie, tells Rolling Stone. “One, we want to show the support is there. The second is to begin to do the organizing that is going to need to happen for him to hit the ground running, by the time he announces if he announces.”

The identity of the organizers is part of what makes this campaign interesting. Organizing For Bernie is led by a cross-section of senior campaigners from Sanders’ 2016 run. Pelletier, for instance, was the deputy campaign manager for Sanders last election cycle.

The Colorado-based group includes Dulce Saenz, the former Sanders campaign director for Colorado and Washington state, as well as former Colorado Caucus Director Mandy Nunes-Hennessey and Spencer Carnes, who began as the leader of the Buffs for Bernie group at the University of Colorado in 2016.

The news comes on the heels of a three-day retreat for progressive leaders called “The Gathering” at the Sanders Institute in Burlington, Vermont. Hosted by Jane Sanders and attended by the likes of Dr. Cornel West, Nina Turner and Bernie Sanders himself, “The Gathering” felt a lot like a kitchen-cabinet strategy session, both for the progressive movement generally, and for a potential Sanders run. The weekend included the unveiling of a new plan by University of Massachusetts economist Robert Pollin to cost out a Medicare-for-All proposal.

Of course, the question of whether or not the 77-year-old Sanders would run for president again was a major topic of discussion between panels.

Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ 2016 campaign manager, was a notable conference attendee. Asked about the draft campaign led by his former deputy, Weaver acknowledged he was aware of it.  

“I’ve been contacted by a number of people who are wondering, how do we demonstrate to Bernie that he’s got the support of people across the country?” Weaver says. “Without talking about any particular conversation I’ve had — because I’ve had many — I’ve tried to be encouraging to people and to give whatever advice I can that will help them move forward.”

Weaver added that groups have contacted him because “they know I’m supportive of him running,” and that there’s “a tremendous amount of grassroots energy for him.”

Pelletier tells Rolling Stone Organizing For Bernie doesn’t just plan on gathering names. They also want to start building the skeleton of a national organization. “We want to have an organization in each state, territory and city,” he says.

Pelletier says Organizing For Bernie is “an unaffiliated candidate PAC,” and “we can raise money as any other federal PAC can.”

Sanders himself has already said this year that he will “probably run” for president in 2020, “if it turns out that I am the best candidate to beat Trump.” Pelletier and the rest of Organizing for Bernie obviously believe this to be the case.

“Bernie is the candidate who is offering the greatest contrast to the current administration,” Pelletier says. “We all believe that he is the right person. We also believe it’s a decision that he has to make.”

Numerous national articles have downplayed the significance of a second run by Sanders, who received over 12 million votes in 2016, representing about 43 percent of the Democratic primary vote. Many have argued that he is too old, a criticism Pelletier dismissed.

“What we’ve seen of him barnstorming around the country helping candidates get elected this last fall, he has the energy. He has the desire,” says Pelletier, noting that media speculation about the Vermont Senator has consistently underestimated his chances.

“The press were all discounting him [in 2016],” he says. “So I say: let them discount him.”

This piece has been updated to clarify that Mandy Nunes-Hennessey served as Bernie Sanders’ Colorado Caucus Director in 2016.