The Definitive H&H Bernie Sanders Scouting Report

Mark Halperin and John Heilemann analyze the Vermont senator's strengths and weaknesses as a presidential candidate.

He’s In It to Win It: Sanders Announces for 2016

What he’s got: Disciplined delivery of a principled populist economic message; ability to garner ample media coverage; built-in support in Iowa and New Hampshire among progressives; no fear whatsoever of taking on the Clinton machine.

What he lacks: Ease in talking about himself or his agenda in a warm or accessible way; a clear and compelling explanation as to why an avowed socialist is the right man to lead America in the 21st Century; national security credentials; a vision of the future as optimistic as the trenchancy of his critique of the status quo.

Biggest question mark: Can he raise his plausibility quotient high enough to be seen as the predominant Clinton alternative?

Message: America needs fundamental economic change that the Republicrat ruling class will never bring about.

Signature issues: Economic justice; worker empowerment; opposition to trade deals.

Core constituencies: Naderites, peaceniks, hard-left liberals.

Fundraising mojo: Could catch fire as an online raiser if he takes on Clinton effectively; has to decide what to do about super-PACs and the progressive millionaires who might want to back him.

Spouse and family: Low-profile second wife Jane O’Meara Driscoll is a former Vermont college president. Has four adult children (three of them stepchildren) and seven grandchildren. Rarely talks about them or his Brooklyn upbringing.

on April 25, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina.

Senator Bernie Sanders is seen on April 25, 2015, in Columbia, South Carolina.

Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Perceived electability as Democratic nominee: Must overcome pervasive view among party elites that he would end up being buried in a McGovernesque landslide.

National security credentials: Knowledgeable about foreign affairs, with strong views about the proper balance between national security and civil liberties. But has a long way to go to win the argument that a Sanders presidency would make America safer.

Television skills: Consistent performer in delivering his views, but more intense than conventionally likable.

Social media/online chops: Twitter following of around 290,000, not at Hillary Clinton’s level, but more robust than Martin O’Malley’s or Jim Webb’s (7.4K). Communicates primarily about budget priorities, income inequality and how the “greed” of the billionaire class “is destroying the middle class.” Test will be if he can leverage the platform for voter mobilization and fundraising.

Media coverage: Often treated more as a curiosity than a comer; needs to convince the press he is a man of ideas rather than idiosyncrasies.

Polling strength: Like all Democratic prospects not named Clinton, remains a blip.

The Big Mo: An early announcement should keep months of forward motion going; the question is what (if anything) he can do for a second act that might sustain it.

Fire in the belly: Wants to be heard, but needs to prove he wants to win.

The hang test: Quirkily charming when pressed to be himself, but normally comes across as a scold, not a pal.

Challenges party orthodoxy: Decries Democratic ties to Wall Street and big business; ardent defender of gun rights.

Best moment of the 2016 cycle so far: Ascension to ranking Democratic member status on the Senate Budget Committee, giving him a bigger megaphone than ever on spending and domestic policy.

Worst moment of 2016 cycle so far: After answering a question about the Middle East in an August 2014 town hall, got into a shouting match with a heckler, barking at him, “Excuse me, shut up.”

Best Bloomberg Politics moment: His monster imitation.

Worst Bloomberg Politics moment: Didn’t seem too familiar with "Seinfeld”—specifically, with the fact that his voice sounds uncannily like that of Larry David playing George Steinbrenner—during an appearance on With All Due Respect.

Picture he doesn’t want you to see: Anything that isn’t this adorable shot of him and his grandson.


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