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DES MOINES — Bernie Sanders is back bigger and stronger than the Democratic socialist insurgent who nearly won the Iowa caucuses in 2016.

That’s the storyline from Sanders’ campaign after weekend events drew more than 5,000 people in Iowa.

“It’s early, but we feel good,” campaign manager Faiz Shakir said. “The state of the Sanders campaign is strong and getting stronger.”

In 2016 the campaign began as a movement of ideas. People cared deeply about ideas Sanders long believed in. However, the early months of the campaign were spent introducing Sanders to people who were not familiar with the Vermont senator, Shakir said.

Because of his 2016 campaign, he starts the 2020 election cycle with name recognition and a mission — “to finish the job,” Shakir said.

In addition to the crowds he has drawn, Shakir said the campaign raised $10 million in the first week and attracted more than a million volunteers.

Shakir expects “there will be a lot of dust kicked up” by the large field of candidates for the Democratic nomination. When the dust settles, Sanders will have answered the overarching questions on voters’ minds: Who can best defeat President Donald Trump and who do voters trust to make the change they want to happen?

“Unequivocally, the answer is Bernie Sanders. I think the voters will come to believe that and understand that as well,” Shakir said.

“This race is a race about electability,” said Jeff Weaver, the 2016 campaign chair and now a senior adviser to Sanders. “Democratic primary voters are very concerned they elect somebody who can defeat President Donald Trump.”

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He has strong appeal among independent voters and younger voters who are less likely to vote unless they are motivated, Weaver said. In 2016, he was able to attract support from first-time voters or those who were voting for the first time in a long time.

“Those are the kind of voters the Democratic Party needs to bring into the fold and to add to its coalition to be successful,” he said.

Sanders pollster Ben Tulchin said the candidate is “extremely well-positioned to win the primary and defeat Trump in a general election match-up.”

Sanders “started in a very strong position and has gotten stronger” even as other candidates have entered the race, Tulchin said, adding that Sanders is leading all other announced candidates by double digits.

No mention was made of polls showing former Vice President Joe Biden leading Sanders when he is included in the field.

Sanders’ average favorability over 10 national polls has been over 70 percent.

“So he’s very popular with Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents,” Tulchin said.

Half of Sanders’ voters are women, nearly half are people of color, and he’s the leading candidate — announced or unannounced — among Latino voters, he said. “That puts him in a much better position to win the primary.”

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Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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