Another Democrat looks poised to enter the presidential race.
Sen. Bernie Sanders is only days away from making a decision on a 2016 run, and leaning towards yes, according to his top strategist.
“I think we’re coming to the critical moment of truth here. He’s now spent enough time traveling around the country talking to people and feels there is genuinely a large audience of people who are with him,” veteran Democratic strategist Tad Devine, who is advising Sanders, told msnbc.
Sanders is an Independent senator from Vermont who identifies as a social-Democrat, but would enter the race as a Democrat. He’s been traveling to the early presidential primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina as he openly explores an uphill presidential run against frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
Devine said a final decision is coming in “days,” probably sometime next week, though a formal announcement will likely wait until deeper into May.
“I think he’s leaning toward wanting to do this, but he’s going to figure out all the details,” Devine said. “Left to own druthers, he would say OK, ‘I think the message resonates.’ He’s up to it, his wife would be in favor of it ... that’s his trajectory.”
There is still lots of details to work out, from fundraising to compliance to staffing, but Sanders could take advantage of a 15-day window under federal election laws to start hiring staff and building infrastructure before formally declaring a bid.
Sanders is already in talks with potential staffers. And while he’s been in contact with Democratic activists across the country in recent months, lately the conversations have become less hypothetical and more about asking for commitments to support his candidacy, if he decides to run.
Sanders has been relying on an informal network of friends and advisers as he considers a presidential run. The unofficial brain trust has gathered with Sanders in Washington, including once at the Capitol Hill home of progressive radio host and former California Democratic party chairman Bill Press.
His Senate office has begun preparing for Sanders to spend lots of time in Iowa and New Hampshire as they adjust his schedule.
The key question for Sanders all along has been whether he can run a viable, credible, and serious campaign in the face of an overwhelming favorite like Hillary Clinton. He has no interest in being a spoiler or protest candidate, as he has often said.
While Iowa is considered Clinton’s weakest state, thanks to her third place finish there in 2008, Devine said Sanders is likely to focus just as much on New Hampshire, thanks to the state's proximity to Vermont.
Clinton won the first-in-the-nation primary state in 2008. But Devine chalks that up in part to Democrats not being ready to hand the untested Barack Obama the nomination after his Iowa victory, and wanting to draw out the nomination fight a bit longer.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren also polls well in New Hampshire, and Sanders’ team thinks he can capture much of her support once it becomes clear the Massachusetts Democrat is not running for president.
Sanders has studied a recent PPP poll showing him in third place behind Clinton and Warren. At 7%, the poll puts him ahead of other potential challengers like Vice President Joe Biden, former Gov. Martin O'Malley, former Gov. Lincoln Chafee, and former Sen. Jim Webb.
“Do I think he could move this thing up more than anybody else? Than Webb, or O’Malley or, Chaffee? Yes, I do,” Devine said.
"Do I think he could move this thing up more than anybody else? Than Webb, or O’Malley or, Chaffee? Yes, I do."'
Sanders’s Senate campaign committee has about $4.5 million in the bank, according to the most recent campaign finance reports, which could likely be used to help get a presidential campaign off the ground. He also has a leadership PAC called Progressive Voters of America.
Fundraising would be a challenge for the senator, but he expects to generate small-dollar donations from a national network of progressives who want an alternative to Clinton. And he’s lately been hitting the fundraising circuit in Democratic ATMs like San Francisco and Austin.
But Devine cautioned that Sanders, who has made no secret of his dislike for modern politics’ emphasis on money, is not yet committed.
“As you come closer and closer to the rubber hitting the road on this thing, the magnitude of this endeavor becomes more and more clear,” he said.