Despite his resistance to publicly discussing the 2020 presidential race, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) privately met with key members of his campaign team during the #TrumpShutdown last weekend to discuss his potential bid for the nation's highest office, several Democratic insiders told Politico.
Sources said the campaign team's main message to Sanders was clear: "You would be one of the front-runners for the Democratic nomination. And if you want to run, it's time to start seriously planning accordingly."
The team's predictions align with polling results from President Donald Trump's first year in office, which have consistently shown significant voter support for Sanders, should he choose to run in the next presidential race.
"Part of the discussion included gaming out how the rest of the field might look," Politico notes, "since 2016's landscape—effectively pitting Sanders directly against Hillary Clinton—was far more straightforward than the expected 2020 free-for-all"
Top 2020 contenders on the left, according to political analysts and observers, include Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Kirsten Gilliband (D-N.Y.) as well as former Vice President Joe Biden and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The 76-year-old senator has admitted that he hasn't taken a 2020 presidential run "off the table," but Sanders has also chastised reporters for "talking about never-ending campaigns" rather than focusing on his challenges to policies being pushed by congressional Republicans and the president.
While the meeting on Saturday followed a series of other moves that political observers have concluded indicate that Sanders is planning another run for president, his campaign manager Jeff Weaver, who attended the meeting, insists that right now Sanders' top priority is the midterm election in November.
"The senator is extremely focused on making sure the Democrats win in 2018," Weaver said, "and that is the primary goal right now: to retake the House and retake the Senate so we can stop this horrendous Trump agenda."
On Monday, Sanders sent an email to his massive network of supporters outlining his strategy for 2018. The senator pledged to back "progressives running up and down the ballot" and said he "intends to go to every corner of this country to help build the electoral wave that will sweep Republicans out of the Congress."