Sanders watches as the Left looks to Warren

Sen. Bernie Sanders is mulling a presidential bid.

Story highlights

  • Bernie Sanders needs the liberal grassroots to rally around a prospective presidential bid
  • Liberal activists have rallied around the idea of Sen. Elizabeth Warren running for president
  • Sanders says campaigns -- and media -- should focus on issues, not personalities

Washington (CNN)Bernie Sanders is well aware that if he runs for president in 2016 -- a decision he says he will announce by March -- he will face a monumental challenge.

He isn't a registered Democrat, but would be vying for the party's presidential nomination. He doesn't have much name recognition, but would be likely going up against the uber-recognizable Hillary Clinton. And as of late, it doesn't even seem like he has the support of his base.
    In the last few months, the liberal activists inside the Democratic Party have been organizing around the possibility of a long-shot presidential run by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, not Sanders' seemingly more likely run.
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    Liberal groups have been pining for a Warren run for months and on Tuesday, a coalition of groups announced they would kick off their efforts in New Hampshire with a rally and plans to open local offices. This comes despite the fact Warren bluntly said "no" when asked if she was running in 2016.
    Sanders' hope, although he is somewhat loathe to admit it, is that he will someday get that same support.
    "Obviously one would hope one would have as much support as possible from all walks of life," he said on Tuesday when asked why he thinks those groups aren't rallying around him. "I am a great fan of Elizabeth and as for what people do and why they don't do it, I am not going to speculate."
    Ben Wikler, the Washington Director of Move On, said that although MoveOn members have "enormous respect for Bernie Sanders," it is Warren who is "on fire."
    "Sen. Warren is perfectly in tune with this moment in history and her message, which has been a consistent, singularly focused message ... resonates with an almost electric energy," Wikler said.
    A source at MoveOn, however, was more blunt in their assessment of why Warren over Sanders.
    "You can see when the needle breaks the gauge," the source said. "It happens with Warren. It happens with Warren in a way that it doesn't happen with anyone else right now."
    This is a problem for Sanders: The people he could once rely on -- liberal organizers -- have found someone else to support.
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    "If we can't do that," Sanders said on invigorating the grassroots to get around him, "then I am not going to [run]."
    Campaign should focus on issues, not personality
    Sanders is the most serious progressive candidate actively entertaining a run at the presidency in 2016. He has taken a number of trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, two presidential mainstays, and regularly speaks at liberal conferences across the country. On Tuesday, in an editorial board meeting with CNN, he reiterated that he was strongly considering a run as either a Democrat or a independent.
    But that is about all he was interested in talking about regarding 2016.
    "Ten minutes into this discussion and no one has asked me about any of the major issues facing this country," Sanders said after a group of CNN producers and reporters peppered him with questions about the race, Hillary Clinton and his prospects for running.
    "[I have] no intention of taking on Hillary Clinton, that is not the issue, that is the wrong question," he said. "I am not taking on Hillary Clinton. I am taking on the issues."
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    To Sanders, elections should be more simplified. Candidates outline where they stand on complex issues, devoid of personality politics and poll questions about who Americans would rather have a beer with. A number of times in the hour, Sanders -- a senator who has come to be known as much for his fly-away hair as his passionate speeches in the Senate -- bluntly lamented the way political journalism in the United States focuses on personality as it does.
    "I think this is not about personality," Sanders said, raising his Vermonter-by-way-of-New York voice. "I am not a singer, I am not a dancer, I am not an entertainer."
    Sanders would rather have voters know his policies, than his favorite vacation destination or his childhood icons.
    • On college affordability, Sanders wants to pull money from defense and other government priorities to help fund public universities and bring down the cost of education.
    • On campaign finance, the senator reiterated his disdain with Citizens' United -- a 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened the flood gates to outside campaign spending -- but said he would not "commit unilateral disarmament" and disavow all super PAC activity.
    • And on healthcare, Sanders said he would push for a "Medicare for all" plan that would likely dismantle much of the Affordable Care Act.
    In Sander's view, it was personality -- not policy -- that elected former President George W. Bush, someone the independent says was a "very nice guy ... but the worst president this country has had."
    "I think the media, and I have to throw this back at you guys, makes it too easy to cover my grandchildren," he said. "Or Mitt Romney's dog riding on the top of his car. Very interesting, but it is not important."