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Bernie Sanders Files To Run As A Democrat — And An Independent

Sen. Bernie Sanders arrives for a rally to kick off his 2020 presidential campaign in the Brooklyn, New York Saturday.
Johannes Eisele
AFP/Getty Images
Sen. Bernie Sanders arrives for a rally to kick off his 2020 presidential campaign in the Brooklyn, New York Saturday.

Bernie Sanders filed Monday to be a candidate for the Senate in 2024 — as an independent.

But last month, Sanders filed as a Democratfor president.

It's not unusual for candidates to file with the Federal Election Commission for re-election to their current office, which allows them to begin raising money. Most candidates file shortly after Election Day, in fact.

But with Sanders, it creates the odd situation of having a high-profile presidential candidate file to run for two different offices with different parties, just as the Democratic Party is adopting rules mandating presidential candidates take something of a loyalty pledge.

Sanders also filed as a Democratin 2016 to be able to run in the Democratic presidential primary — and had already filed for his 2018 Senate campaign as an independent, a status he's held in Congress for many years. Sanders' ambiguous party loyalty was one reason the Democratic National Committee adopted rules for 2020 candidates to affirm that they are, in fact, a Democrat, and will run and serve as one.

Sanders has influenced many changes to rules within the party. The DNC, for example, has scaled back the role of superdelegates. But it wants a degree of loyalty in return.

The party is requiring "affirmation" forms returned in writing to the party chairman declaring that fact. The DNC gave the form to all the declared campaigns last week during a briefing at party headquarters. Sanders and the others have until the middle of this week to return it. The Sanders' campaign says he intends to sign it.

But filing as an independent for a future campaign could disturb already ruffled feathers among some Democrats.

The new DNC rules state that a candidate must "be a bona fide Democrat whose record of public service, accomplishment, public writings, and/or public statements affirmatively demonstrates that the candidate is faithful to the interests, welfare, and success of the Democratic Party of the United States who subscribes to the substance, intent, and principles of the Charter and the Bylaws of the Democratic Party of the United States, and who will participate in the Convention in good faith."

And candidates must affirm in writing to the DNC chairman that they "are a Democrat... are a member of the Democratic Party; will accept the Democratic nomination; and will run and serve as a member of the Democratic Party."

The interpretation and enforcement of those rules could be tricky, however, especially with a candidate as high-profile as Sanders, someone who has a deep base of fervent supporters.

Some within the party view the rules as strictly applying to the presidential campaign. The party is not requiring Sanders, for example, to change his party affiliation in the Senate.

But some Democrats, Clinton supporters in particular, partly blame Sanders for her loss in 2016. They feel that by not embracing the party label, Sanders sowed a sense that there wasn't much difference between the parties and, therefore, between Trump and Clinton.

Clinton, herself, wrote in her book What Happened that Sanders did "lasting damage" to her candidacy — and that he never wanted a Democrat to win.

"He didn't get into the race to make sure a Democrat won the White House," Clinton wrote, "he got in to disrupt the Democratic Party."

She called him "fundamentally wrong" about the party, ticked off the things Democrats have done and noted, "I am proud to be a Democrat and I wish Bernie were, too."

Sanders supporters dismiss those concerns and believe they are unfounded, noting that the Vermont senator, who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, endorsed Clinton and traveled the country campaigning for her and wants nothing more than to defeat President Trump in 2020.

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Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.