Sanders into early lead as he rakes in $18m for his campaign
Bernie Sanders has emerged as an early front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination as candidates battle for support in a crowded field.
The Vermont senator, who launched a surprisingly strong challenge against Hillary Clinton in 2016, is hoping to build on the momentum from his last presidential campaign.
Mr Sanders has surpassed his rivals in early fundraising, earning $18.2m (€16.1m) in the first six weeks of the 2020 campaign, and has developed a sophisticated campaign team since his first run.
Following his 2016 campaign, he created the political group Our Revolution, which has collected information on voters and organised events in early voting states.
The organisation has helped establish Mr Sanders as a figurehead for progressive Democrats, helping to elect candidates such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib in the 2018 midterms.
Mr Sanders won more than 20 primary contests against Ms Clinton in 2016 as a clear outsider and supporters argue popular demand for the senator's brand of self-described democratic socialism has not decreased.
"Donald Trump campaigned on economic terms as faux Bernie Sanders. It was taking his language and selling it to the American people," said Faiz Shakir, Mr Sanders' campaign manager. "And how do you defeat faux Bernie Sanders? You defeat him with real Bernie Sanders."
However, some Democrats worry weaknesses in Mr Sanders's 2016 campaign remain, such as criticism that his team was too heavily white and male and concerns his left-wing policy platform could turn away swing voters.
Despite enthusiasm for Mr Sanders's campaign, critics also say he performed poorly with black voters who overwhelmingly backed Ms Clinton in 2016.
Notably, Mr Sanders lost the South Carolina primary by more than 45 points.
"I understand that a lot of people took a lot of things out of the South Carolina results," Mr Shakir said.
"We are going to continue to court and address these issues directly, but we are operating with a great deal of confidence."
Advisers argue Mr Sanders has addressed the weakness by working to build relationships with black leaders in South Carolina and other Southern states, while making racial inequality and criminal justice more prominent issues in his campaigning.
Campaign officials also argue his 2020 team will be more diverse with current campaign staff reportedly being majority female and 40pc people of colour.
"We were criticised for being too white; that was a correct criticism," Mr Sanders said on the 'Breakfast Club' radio show in March. "We were criticised for being too male; that was a correct criticism. That's going to change."
In early polling, Mr Sanders is up to 10 points ahead of other declared Democrats.
He is still behind former vice-president Joe Biden, who has indicated he is planning to run but has not formerly announced a campaign.
Critics argue Mr Sanders's position is partly due to name recognition, with himself and Mr Biden being the two best-known candidates.