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And then there were 10: Bernie Sanders joins crowded 2020 field

When looking at the field for the Democratic nomination, it'd be a mistake to see Bernie Sanders as anything but a top contender.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally in Washington, June 9, 2016. (Photo by Cliff Owen/AP)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally in Washington, June 9, 2016.

Headed into today, there were already enough Democratic presidential candidates to field a baseball team. including five sitting U.S. senators. Today, they received some high-profile company.

Bernie Sanders is campaigning for president again, officially entering the crowded 2020 Democratic presidential field on Tuesday with a vow to finish what he started in his last race for the White House."Together, you and I and our 2016 campaign began the political revolution. Now, it is time to complete that revolution and implement the vision that we fought for," Sanders said in an email to supporters and a video announcing his candidacy.

The Vermont independent also appeared on CBS News this morning, in an interview that was recorded in advance, where he boasted, "We're gonna win."

That might be true.

It's quite easy to make the case that Sanders will not win the presidency next year. Indeed, for those who follow politics, the bullet points come to mind quickly: he'll struggle to win a Democratic nomination since he's not actually a Democrat; the senator is comfortable with the "socialist" label in a country where many are reflexively uncomfortable with the word; many of his progressive ideas have already been embraced by other Democratic candidates, making his campaign unnecessary; and it's at least possible that some voters will think twice about rallying behind a presidential candidate who'll be 79 years old on Election Day 2020.

And yet, despite all of these familiar concerns, it's equally easy to see Sanders as a top-tier contender who may very well excel in the coming months.

For one thing, the senator will have the advantage of experience: of the 10 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, Sanders is the only one who's already run a competitive national campaign. He's had time to identify where his first candidacy fell short, including serious concerns about problems within his campaign organization, and take steps to correct those missteps.

For another, the Vermonter, who already enjoys high name recognition, is fueled by a sizable group of supporters, who aren't just loyal to Sanders, but who'll also help provide a strong financial base for his candidacy.

But I think the most important dynamic that will help Sanders is the enormous size of the (still growing) Democratic presidential field. It's no secret that the independent senator has his share of skeptics in Democratic politics, but if he faces 15 to 20 rivals, as now appears likely, Sanders' detractors will be split in ways that work to his advantage.

The arithmetic matters: in a presidential field with two or three competitive candidates, we might expect to see the eventual nominee win primaries and caucuses with at least 50% of the vote. In a field with more than a dozen competitive candidates, support in the 20%-to-25% range will position someone comfortably in the top tier.

And Sanders' base makes that possible.

It obviously won't be easy for the senator. He'll face heightened scrutiny, and with so many of his 2020 rivals already having embraced much of his agenda, Sanders may find it far more challenging to differentiate himself than the last time around.

But when looking at the field for the Democratic nomination, it'd be a mistake to see Sanders as anything but a top contender.