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Why Many Progressives Say They've Come Home To Bernie Sanders

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Bernie Sanders seems to be consolidating support among progressive voters. A year ago, that was not so clear. Back then, NPR's Asma Khalid spoke to voters in New Hampshire, who helped Sanders win big in the state in the 2016 primary, but they weren't sure they wanted the Vermont senator to run for president again. In recent days, Asma has been talking to many of those voters again trying to figure out why they are back with Bernie.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Burt Cohen has known Bernie Sanders since the 1970s. In the last presidential election, he was a delegate for the senator at the Democratic convention. But he was initially skeptical of a Sanders sequel.

BURT COHEN: I wasn't sure it was a good idea, to be perfectly honest.

KHALID: Why's that? What gave you that hesitation?

COHEN: What held me back a little bit was that, as Bernie says, it's not me; it's us - and that so many other candidates were picking up what he was talking about.

KHALID: I heard this from a lot of progressives at the beginning of this campaign cycle. They felt that issues such as "Medicare for All," that Sanders has championed, were now part of the party's mainstream debate. But as the campaign season dragged on, some, like Andy Volinsky began to have doubts about other candidates.

ANDY VOLINSKY: I am not convinced that Sanders' level of commitment to things like Medicare for All exists among very many other candidates.

KHALID: In 2016, Volinsky was Sanders' New Hampshire attorney, but this year he took months to make a decision. He told me he was really impressed with Elizabeth Warren. He even introduced her at a rally. But there was one major worry he had.

VOLINSKY: She's not as readily accepted by working people as Bernie is.

KHALID: That was a common concern I heard from Sanders supporters who told me they had considered Warren before coming back to him. Here's Burt Cohen again.

COHEN: I had been for Warren back in 2015. I had a sticker on my car - run, Warren, run.

KHALID: He says Warren would make a terrific president, but he says Democrats need a candidate who can win back the very voters the party lost in 2016.

COHEN: Frankly, you know, the Harvard professorial style, I don't know how well that would do in the Midwest.

KHALID: But that same concern is what led Bill Stelling away from Bernie Sanders and toward Pete Buttigieg this year.

BILL STELLING: One of the things about Bernie is that I don't think he's evolved very much since 2016. He's delivering exactly the same message. But the world has changed.

KHALID: This notion that consistency might not always be a virtue is probably the most common critique I heard from progressive critics.

RON ABRAMSON: Maybe Bernie hasn't changed, but the times have.

KHALID: That's Ron Abramson. He and his daughter Quincy both supported Sanders in 2016. He held a house party for the senator; she volunteered for him. But this year they are not in sync. He wants a leader who can effectively govern and adapt if needed. He says that's Warren. She wants drastic change. She thinks capitalism is the root of almost every problem in this country. So she told her dad how she sees Warren.

QUINCY ABRAMSON: She does know how to work within the system more and play the game better, and for you, that's pragmatic, and for me, that's scary.

KHALID: Quincy is supporting Sanders again, and she says she came to that decision partly because of how he speaks compared to Warren.

Q ABRAMSON: The feeling I get from the way Warren talks about going into office is, you know, I have a plan for that; vote for me, trust me, and I'll handle it. While Bernie's is, we have to do this together.

KHALID: But Ron doesn't buy his daughter's interpretation of Sanders.

R ABRAMSON: I appreciate that he has created a movement, but there's a fine line between a movement and a cult of personality.

KHALID: For many progressives, these primaries are an either-or decision between Warren and Sanders. But still, Sanders has seen his political fortunes rise in recent weeks as a number of progressive groups announced their support for him and as some voters on the left who initially hesitated when he announced his presidential rerun have ultimately decided to stick with him.

Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.