ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Senator Bernie Sanders is running for president once again. A few things have changed since his last run in 2016. Back then, the Vermont Independent was an underdog, and he was the candidate for the Democratic Party's left-wing base. Today, he's one of the most well-known candidates in a crowded, diverse and more progressive Democratic field.
NPR's Asma Khalid is covering the campaign and has also caught up with Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker over the last couple days. Hi, Asma.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Let's start with the fact that many of the ideas Bernie Sanders has put forward - like Medicare for all, the $15 minimum wage - are now more mainstream Democratic proposals. So how does he stand out from the pack?
KHALID: You know, Ari, in some ways, he is a victim of his own success, you could say, this time. You know, he talks a lot about how, three years ago, people thought some of those ideas were really radical, but now they're being touted by many other Democrats. And, you know, what this means is that he's not the only progressive choice this 2020 cycle.
I've spent a lot of time recently in New Hampshire. And we should keep in mind New Hampshire is a state where Sanders clobbered Hillary Clinton during 2016. I've interviewed a number of people there, though, who supported Senator Sanders in 2016. And some are still with him 100 percent, but there's also a lot of people who are eyeing other options, like Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren or Sherrod Brown.
You know, for his part, Sanders says that he started a political revolution, and now we need to finish it. He believes that he's created a grassroots movement and that real change occurs not just through political leaders, but when people on the outside push for that change.
SHAPIRO: Now, as we've said, this Democratic field is not only crowded, but it's also the most diverse we've ever seen. How does that factor into how Sanders is perceived because, in 2016, he kind of struggled with some communities of color, especially older voters?
KHALID: Yeah, he was asked this morning by Vermont Public Radio about how he intends to pitch his candidacy in such a diverse progressive field. And he basically called for a kind of colorblind, age-blind meritocracy.
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BERNIE SANDERS: We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by - not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age. I mean, I think we have got to try to move us toward a non-discriminatory society which looks at people based on their abilities.
KHALID: You know, after 2016, Sanders is conscious that he needs to address diverse constituencies more directly. I think the question is how effectively he can do that. But, Ari, you know, you do hear a note of defensiveness when he's asked about whether the party does want to nominate a 77-year-old white man this time.
SHAPIRO: Now, even though Sanders, his policies, have become much more popular within the Democratic Party, his identity as a democratic socialist is still controversial. And President Trump has been picking up on that, pressing an argument that Democrats will bring socialism to America. Are other Democratic candidates responding?
KHALID: Well, I was out yesterday with Kamala Harris in New Hampshire, and she was asked about Bernie Sanders. She was really quick to say, I am not a democratic socialist. And also yesterday, Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar was at a town hall with CNN. She was asked about Sanders Medicare-for-all idea. She said that that's something we could look at in the future. But, you know, you've got to build on what we have first.
So there will be a broader conversation in the party between bold progressivism and sort of moderate-incremental approach. But I think the real question is that, you know, there are some progressives who are worried that a Sanders candidacy will actually divide their wing of the party and, in essence, what will happen is potentially a more moderate, centrist candidate will rise up.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Asma Khalid. Thank you, Asma.
KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.