2020 Will Be A Tougher Fight For Bernie Sanders Than 2016 Was

Bernie Sanders is facing questions about sexual harassment from women who worked on his 2016 campaign as he prepares a likely run for President in 2020.

As we head into the 2020 campaign season, Bernie Sanders has a problem that deals with his 2016 campaign:

In February 2016, Giulianna Di Lauro, a Latino outreach strategist for Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential operation, complained to her supervisor that she had been harassed by a campaign surrogate whom she drove to events ahead of the Democratic primary in Nevada.

She said the surrogate told her she had “beautiful curly hair” and asked if he could touch it, Ms. Di Lauro said in an interview. Thinking he would just touch a strand, she consented. But she said that he ran his hand through her hair in a “sexual way” and continued to grab, touch and “push my boundaries” for the rest of the day.

“I just wanted to be done with it so badly,” she said.

When she reported the incident to Bill Velazquez, a manager on the Latino outreach team, he told her, “I bet you would have liked it if he were younger,” according to her account and another woman who witnessed the exchange. Then he laughed.

Accounts like Ms. Di Lauro’s — describing episodes of sexual harassment and demeaning treatment as well as pay disparity in Mr. Sanders’s 2016 campaign — have circulated in recent weeks in emails, online comments and private discussions among former supporters. Now, as the Vermont senator tries to build support for a second run at the White House, his perceived failure to address this issue has damaged his progressive bona fides, delegates and nearly a dozen former state and national staff members said in interviews over the last month.

And it has raised questions among them about whether he can adequately fight for the interests of women, who have increasingly defined the Democratic Party in the Trump era, if he runs again for the presidential nomination in 2020.

The former staff members said complaints about mistreatment and pay disparity during and just after the campaign reached some senior leaders of the operation.

In an interview Wednesday night on CNN, Mr. Sanders said he was proud of his 2016 campaign and attributed any missteps with staff members to the explosive growth that was sometimes overwhelming. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that we did everything right, in terms of human resources,” he told Anderson Cooper.

“I certainly apologize to any woman who felt she was not treated appropriately, and of course if I run we will do better the next time,” he said.

Asked if he knew about the staff complaints, he said, “I was a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case.”

Some women said the fledgling 2016 campaign was disorganized and decentralized, which made it hard to know whom to turn to in the case of mistreatment.

“I did experience sexual harassment during the campaign, and there was no one who would or could help,” said Samantha Davis, the former director of operations in Texas and New York, who also worked on the campaign’s advance team. She said that her supervisor marginalized her after she declined an invitation to his hotel room.

In interviews, women told of makeshift living accommodations on the road, where they were asked to sleep in rooms along with male co-workers they didn’t know. Women who had access to salary records were taken aback to learn that some female staff members made thousands of dollars less than their male counterparts.

Two delegates who supported Mr. Sanders two years ago recently told his staff that he can’t run for president again without addressing the sexism they believe surfaced in his last campaign.

“There was an entire wave of rotten sexual harassment that seemingly was never dealt with,” one of the delegates wrote in a December email, obtained by The New York Times, to a Sanders political strategist.

Jeff Weaver, Mr. Sanders’s 2016 campaign manager and currently a top adviser, said in an email that “anybody who committed harassment on the campaign would not be asked back” and expressed regret for the operation’s shortcomings.

“Was it too male? Yes. Was it too white? Yes,” he said. “Would this be a priority to remedy on any future campaign? Definitely, and we share deeply in the urgency for all of us to make change. In 2016, as the size of our campaign exploded, we made efforts to make it a positive experience for people. That there was a failure pains me very much.”

As the New York Times report goes on to note, the sexism charges inside the 2016 campaign seem to go beyond a few isolated incidents:

Allegations of sexism surfaced during Mr. Sanders’s campaign in 2016, when many of his male fans were derogatorily dubbed “Bernie Bros” for their aggressive online attacks against female reporters and supporters of Hillary Clinton. But they did not overshadow the electrifying nature of his insurgent challenge.

Circumstances have changed since then. Mr. Sanders is no longer an outsider, but an established leader who will be held to a higher standard. And regarding the treatment of women, he must now grapple with the effects of the #MeToo movement.


Pay disparity became another source of frustration among some women, according to former staff members, especially given that labor was one of the senator’s signature issues. During his campaign, Mr. Sanders earned kudos for paying his interns, a relatively unheard-of practice.

Some former staff members said there was little pay transparency, and employees often negotiated their own salaries — practices that tend to favor men, who often feel more comfortable requesting higher compensation packages.

Ms. Davis, the former state director, said that she was originally paid about $2,400 a month as a senior staff member and saw in the campaign’s records that a younger man who was originally supposed to report to her made $5,000 a month. She said that she brought the issue to the campaign’s chief operating officer, who adjusted her salary to achieve parity.

“I helped at least a dozen women request raises so that they would be paid on par with their male peers,” Ms. Davis said.

The senator’s campaign committee acknowledged that there were pay disparities but said salaries were based on experience or the nature of the job and “never determined based on any consideration of an individual’s gender or of any other personal characteristic.”

These allegations are important in and of themselves, of course, but they are more important given the fact that they are taking place in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the backlash against sexual assault and harassment that has taken place in business, entertainment, and in politics. Instead of getting swept under the rug, allegations like the ones that women who worked or volunteered on the Sanders campaign in 2016 are coming forward for the same reason that allegations against businessmen, celebrities, and politicians have come forward ever since reporting on the allegations against men like Les Moonves, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Al Franken, and others has led women from all parts of society to take to social media or other forums to tell their own stories about having been discriminated against. Additionally, the allegations of pay disparities between men and women on Sanders’ campaign goes to the heart of many of his own policy proposals. Sanders response that he was busy campaigning when all this was going on and being reported within the campaign is, to be frank about it, hardly sufficient and likely to be something he’ll have to answer questions about in the future.

As CNN’s Chris Cillizza notes all of this and the seemingly flippant response that Sanders gave last week when asked about the reports present a problem for Sanders as he tries to make lightning strike for a second time:

On Wednesday night, Sanders was asked by Anderson Cooper whether he was aware, during the 2016 campaign, of the allegations – recently published by The New York Times – of sexism and sexual harassment within his operation.

“I was a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case,” said Sanders.

That is not a good answer. At all. Ever. And especially not amid the ongoing impact of the #MeToo movement on the culture and political world.

(Worth noting: He did apologize “to any woman who felt that she was not treated appropriately,” and added: “If I run, we will do better next time.”)

The larger point here is that Sanders got away with lots of flubs and gaffes — like this one — during the course of the 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton because a) no one believed, particularly in the early days of the race, that he had any real chance and b) she simply never really went after him.

Sanders has spent decades in the House and Senate. Clinton barely mentioned the thousands of votes he took — she did spend some time on his votes in support of gun rights — largely because she was afraid of pissing off liberals who were already skeptical of her.

That won’t be the case when (I mean, if) Sanders runs for president this time. He won’t be a plucky outsider charging at a windmill. He will be one of the best-known candidates, someone others are looking to knock down a peg to bump up their own chances.

As Cillizza goes on to note, all of this means that 2020 is likely to be a very different year for Senator Sanders should he decide to run than 2016 was. In 2016, he was the upstart candidate running a surprisingly strong campaign against a Democratic Party favorite who most of the party elite had rallied behind long before the race began. Even though he had been running for, and held, elective office in Vermont since being elected Mayor of Burlington in 1980, he was treated as something of a political novice during the 2016 campaign. This meant that many of the same missteps and mistakes that might have been a problem for another candidate were brushed aside in his case. Additionally, many of those mishaps got overlooked due to the fact that Sanders was making headlines by drawing big crowds and winning caucuses and some primaries that, while insufficient to actually make it mathematically possible for him to win the delegate race against Clinton, whose campaign organization dwarfed the one supporting Sanders by orders of magnitude.

None of that will be true in 2020. Instead of being, as Cillizza puts it, the “plucky outsider” he is now seen as the leader of the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party. Rather than being relatively unknown, he will have one of the most well-known names in the race. Most importantly, unlike 2016 there will be a number of other candidates likely seeking to attract that same cohort of voters that Sanders will be aiming at. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is another star in the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, is already effectively a candidate and spent the past weekend campaigning in Iowa, a performance that for the most part seems to be getting fairly good preliminary reviews. In addition to Warren, Sanders faces the prospect of competing for support from the “progressive” wing of the party from potential candidates such as Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Tulsi Gabbard, and others. Given that, and especially taking into account the fact that these candidates are much younger than he is, the path Sanders faces in 2020 is likely to be far more complicated for him and for his campaign.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, 2020 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. MarkedMan says:

    Another thing he will be unlikely to skate from this time: his tax returns. Whenever the subject came up, Bernie put on his best rumpled Professor act, head too high in the clouds for such mundane matters. He would assure everyone that he would release everything but they had to ask his wife, as she handled the family finances. She in turn would suddenly become poor harried lil’ ol’ me and vaguely flutter her arms and mutter “dearie, dearie me, now where did I put those?” This, from a woman who oversaw her own plan to restructure a university. (Although, given that she drove it into bankruptcy, maybe I’m being too skeptical of the elderly grandma ditziness act. ) Finally, late, late in the game, they released their 2017 taxes. Coincidentally, the only year filed since they knew he would be under public scrutiny. Something is rotten there. It would be interesting to find out if they filed an amended 2017 return after the original was made public. And it would be interesting to go back 10 years and see what the heck was going on. If they really can’t find them, I’m sure the IRS would be willing to help.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    -Clinton by and large ignored Sanders in 16 as did the Repub promoting parts of the press. That won’t happen in 2020.
    -Yesterday the Times-Argus begged Sanders not to run.
    -Warren and others will be filling the ideological sphere that he wants to occupy and likely with more complete and detailed policy positions than Sanders is likely capable of.
    -I always like the Barney Frank line about Sanders being congress for decades and never introducing and shepherding to passage a piece of legislation.
    -#metoo complaints are going to be only the beginning of the examination. This Slate article from 2016 by Michelle Goldberg is a good primer on the areas of attack on Bernie.

  3. Jen says:

    Good. He absolutely should not have the cakewalk he did last time. It still irritates me that he gets away with the shenanigans he pulls getting elected in VT (runs as a Democrat in the primary, crushes/eliminates any challenger, and then switches back to being an Independent to run in the general election), but if the voters there want to put up with that nonsense, that’s up to them.

    On the national stage, however, I expect someone who runs on the Democratic ticket to *actually be* a Democrat, and that includes all of the work, such as the boring fundraising work, to be part of the program.

    And yes to comments above noting that he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with the tax return nonsense, and the glossing-over of his very scant legislative successes. I hope to heck that the “rumpled Professor act” (good description, @MarkedMan: ) doesn’t fly this time.

    He deserves to be challenged, and yeah, that was a garbage response he gave to Cooper about what happened on the campaign.

  4. Ben Wolf says:

    He absolutely should not have the cakewalk he did last time.

    In what has to be some kind of record, the Washington Post ran 16 negative stories on Bernie Sanders in 16 hours, between roughly 10:20 PM EST Sunday, March 6, to 3:54 PM EST Monday, March 7—a window that includes the crucial Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, and the next morning’s spin. . .


  5. KM says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    -Warren and others will be filling the ideological sphere that he wants to occupy and likely with more complete and detailed policy positions than Sanders is likely capable of.

    This, I question. Quite a few BernieBros didn’t give a damn about “completeness of policy” then and are unlikely to now. There’s a bit of a cult following a la Trumpkins that means Dems aren’t going to be able to recover those voters just by giving them more details about the things they claim to care about. They like Bernie, you see. Someone like Warren, Beto, or even AOC may have the charisma or policy to challenge Sanders but they’re not Bernie and thus will be dissed as “wannabes” or “trying to ruin his chances”. They’re grumbling about the #metoo things as a setup to ruin him instead of embracing the idea that their hero might not be a squeaky clean paragon. They complain about how old Pelosi is but want her contemporary for a four year Presidential term.

    Think of it like this: the Palinistas went Trumpkin because the next focus of their devotion was even more extra with all their socially preferred traits (male this time, rich, famous, etc). But who could they possibly run after Trump to up the game and keep those same voters interested and energized? To lure someone from a cult of personality requires some rather big bait. Who do we have that can out-Bernie Bernie?

  6. MarkedMan says:

    @Ben Wolf: is this your schtick now? You post excerpts from others but make no comments yourself?

    In this case, are you implying that these stories were unfair?

  7. SKI says:

    Reality check:

    Sanders is 77. He will be 79 on election day 2020.

    He is 5 years older than the current occupant.

    He would have to wader through a crowded field where he won’t get the benefit of being the default other choice or of being the only option to the angry.

    I’m not sure he runs but I’m pretty sure that if he does, he doesn’t make it very far.

  8. Ben Wolf says:
  9. Jen says:

    I just did a quick scan of those “negative” headlines.

    Some examples:
    What Bernie Sanders still doesn’t get about arguing with Hillary Clinton
    Clinton is running for president. Sanders is doing something else.
    “This is Huge”-Trump, Sanders both using same catchphrase
    The NRA just praised Bernie Sanders – and did him no favors in doing so

    While the frequency might seem high, it makes sense for a publication trying to catch eyeballs–Sanders was, like Trump, good for clicks.

    On the substance of the pieces–the NRA did praise Sanders, he has been a fairly reliable vote (which makes sense for Vermont). Sanders was clearly initially in the race to pull Clinton to the left, so the “Sanders is doing something else” headline is both fair and accurate. Same with using the word “huge”–how is this a negative headline? Because Trump is in it?

    I’m not going to dissect each headline, nor am I going to go through each article. The bottom line is that Clinton did handle Sanders with kid gloves precisely for the reason Doug mentioned in the article: she didn’t want to anger his supporters. There was no mention of, say, Sanders’ vote to send nuclear waste to a poor part of Texas, a move Republicans couldn’t wait to run on–they’d even decided on the phrase they’d use–“environmental racism.”

    That the next crop of candidates will not be encumbered by the presentation of one vs. the other, I think, a good thing.

  10. Ben Wolf says:

    The bottom line is that Clinton did handle Sanders with kid gloves precisely for the reason Doug mentioned in the article: she didn’t want to anger his supporters

    McKesson is right to be suspicious. Hillary Clinton’s record on race is not great. If she wishes to earn some trust on issues of racial justice, a good place to start would be with the distinctly racist undertones of her 2008 campaign against Barack Obama.


  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: @Ben Wolf: Looking at the two posts, it’s clear enough to me that Mr. Wolf’s elevator doesn’t quite make the top floor anymore. It’s a clever enough response, but incoherent as well.

    And we’ll all get to the doddering grandpa phase eventually.

  12. Sleeping Dog says:

    The Bernie Bros won’t get him the nomination. He needs to expand his base, but with Warren and others there it will be difficult. Yes the BB’s don’t care about policy, but the Dem voters who he needs to attract do.

  13. MarkedMan says:

    @Ben Wolf: FWIW I (and I suspect many others) don’t click through random links with no explanation. If you’ve got something to say, say it.

  14. MarkedMan says:

    @Sleeping Dog: I’m really not worried about Bernie winning the nom this time. He’s way past his sell by date and wouldn’t have borne close scrutiny even at his freshest. I’m worried that because he is a sour, bitter, vindictive, arrogant prick*, he’ll run as a third party spoiler. He would accept Koch or Mercer money in a heartbeat.

    *Always worth pointing out that the only Democrat he gave any significant financial help to while running was the opponent of someone he felt had wronged him. And once he got over it he forgot completely about him and left him high and dry. First rule of Bernie: if it ain’t about Bernie it ain’t anything.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    he is now seen as the leader of the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party.

    No. He is not even a member of the Democratic party, never has been, never will be, so he can not be the “leader of the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party.” He is the leader of a “progressive” something or other (some would call it a cult) that a number of DEM leaning voters “belong” to, but that is not the same thing.

    As far as Bernie’s chances of winning the nomination, I would put them at <0 but not by much.

  16. Ben Wolf says:
  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MarkedMan: So little time on this planet. Why did you even bother?

  18. MarkedMan says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Fair enough. On the other hand he is such a stereotypical Bernie Bro in the worst way possible if I was Alex Jones I couldn’t help but wonder if he is running a false flag op.

  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MarkedMan: Just another old man yelling at clouds.

  20. Ben Wolf says:


    When another blames you or hates you, or when men say anything injurious about you, approach their poor souls, penetrate within, and see what kind of men they are. You will discover that there is no reason to be concerned that these men have this or that opinion about you. You must, however, be well disposed toward them, for by nature they are friends.

  21. EddieInCA says:

    F**K Bernie, and the horse he rode in on. Like Nader before him, he only helped elect a GOP president.

    Bernie Bros: Go F**K yourselves. Seriously. Go. F..K. Yourselves.

    I want the next president to be a Democrat, not an independent who screws over Democrats way too often.

    So go away, Bernie. Don’t go away mad. Just go away. Same for the Bernie Bros.

  22. Tyrell says:

    The primaries and caucuses used funny numbers counting, with results like “Sanders wins, falls further behind Clinton”. And you had the shenanigans of Wasserman Schultz and the
    “debate – a gate” swindle. Some of the Democrat party leaders were determined to rig a coronation for Hillary.

  23. EddieInCA says:


    Some of the Democrat party leaders were determined to rig a coronation for Hillary.

    You mean Democrats wanted (gasp!) a DEMOCRAT to win the Democratic Nomination for President? The horror!!!

    Bernie can join the Democratic Party, support it’s candidates, raise funds, represent the party, and, you know, be a party member, if he wants the Democratic nomination. Until then, he can go f**k himself. Same for his Bernie Bros.

    Oh… And Susan Sarandon as well can go F herself.

  24. Jen says:

    @Tyrell: This garbage, again?

    Getting involved in the debate nonsense was stupid and wholly unnecessary. It was dumb and it should never have happened.

    However, Democratic party leaders–and by that I mean the county committee chairpeople, the state level fundraisers, and the many thousands of volunteers that Clinton has interacted with over the DECADES she has been in the public eye–did want to see a Democrat win the Democratic nomination.

    She put in the hard work over the years, made the connections, shook the hands, and remembered key people’s names (and often details about them). I can’t imagine why hard work like that would be recognized by the rank and file who do the local party work.

    Votes weren’t rigged. Sanders was just annoyed that he couldn’t swoop in and change their minds. She played by the rules and won the nomination, and I think it is incredibly bizarre that we are discussing the 2016 primary at this point. It needs to stop, and the best way to accomplish that is for Bernie to gracefully–if that word exists to him–exit the limelight.

  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @t: In scale, your lifetime won’t even be the length of a blink to how long the earth has existed. (And I lean toward “Young Earth” creationism.)

  26. Teve says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Seriously? Young Earth Creationism? Tell me you’re kidding.

  27. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    How does one “lean toward” YEC? I’m living in the heart of creationist country (I can see a billboard from my office advertising the creationist museum in northern Kentucky), and it seems to be a pretty dichotomous theology.

  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Growing up among the Baptists–a childhood through university years member of a General Association of Regular Baptist church–I’m simply one of those backward-thinking, intolerant, intellect-deprived individuals that Teve is always talking about. The difference being that I don’t usually debate my beliefs related to the origins of the universe in public forums, holding firmly to a very non-Evangelical, but, at the time I was growing up thoroughly Fundamentalist, belief in the agency of the individual in matters of belief/faith/philosophy/whatever. My personal take is most sympathetic to 6-literal-24-hour day creation, but I have no dog in the fight because I do not accept the notion that Genesis, Chapters 1-3 is about explaining how the universe and the earth specifically came to be. So I see myself as leaning toward the theory because being proven wrong would be of no significance to me.

    I would note, that I’ve never had any more than morbid curiosity about the creationist museum. I find the things that Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christians feel they need to *prove* empirically to have become a bit fatiguing. Maybe because I was soooooooo locked into that mindset during my formative years. (It’s called “faith” for a reason.)

    ETA:@Teve: No, I’m not. But I have no need to challenge (or mock) your beliefs. Do you about mine?

  29. al Ameda says:


    The primaries and caucuses used funny numbers counting, with results like “Sanders wins, falls further behind Clinton”. And you had the shenanigans of Wasserman Schultz and the
    “debate – a gate” swindle. Some of the Democrat party leaders were determined to rig a coronation for Hillary.

    Hillary received nearly 4 million more votes than Bernie did during the primary season. Are you saying that 17 million primary Clinton voters were duped by Debbie Wasserman?

  30. MarkedMan says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    How does one “lean toward” YEC?

    Solipsism. Ultimately, the perfect answer. The universe came into being with my birth and that’s that.

    Or, 42.

  31. MarkedMan says:

    @al Ameda: It’s actually been kind of interesting watching how basic principles that should be understandable by a fifth grader make the Alex Jones crowd go bonkers. It appears that this “Bernie wins, falls further behind, so there must be a conspiracy” meme comes from is simple election math. Put in simplified terms, let’s say that you need 100 delegates to win the nomination and there is 200 total delegates available. And at some point Hillary is leading Bernie with 80 delegates to 40. This leaves 80 delegates that could go either way. However, Bernie needs 60/80 of the remaining delegates, while Hillary only needs 20/80 of the remaining delegates. Put another way, Bernie needs to win three times as many delegates as Hillary in the remaining primaries.

    Next, a state primary takes place that puts 30 delegates up for grabs. Bernie wins 17 and Hillary wins 13, so Bernie won that state. But now there are only 60 delates left. Bernie needs 43/60 but Hillary only needs 7/60. So now Bernie needs to win 6 times as many remaining delegates, but he didn’t even get 2 to 1 in the last primary. So it is entirely truthful that his job got more, not less difficult.

    It may be easier to analogize to a football game. If the Team A is up by 5 TDs at halftime, even if they are outscored by 4 TDs in the second half, they still won’t win. Team B had a killer second half, but lost so much ground upfront they didn’t pull it out. Happens. All. The. Time.

    The fact that the Trumpers can’t process this information is no surprise. But as much as the Bernie Bros tick me off I don’t think of them as stupid. It just goes to show how even smart people will sacrifice logic in order to believe something they want to believe.