US Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump speaks at Trump Tower in New York on April 26,2016 after winning primaries in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware.
KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images
US Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump speaks at Trump Tower in New York on April 26,2016 after winning primaries in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware.
Now playing
02:17
Violent protests erupt at Trump rally
Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein waits to be introduced prior to a press conference at the National Press Club August 23, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein waits to be introduced prior to a press conference at the National Press Club August 23, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Now playing
01:44
Jill Stein raises millions for recount
Former Democratic US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks to staff and supporters at the New Yorker hotel after her defeat in the presidential election November 9, 2016 in New York. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Former Democratic US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks to staff and supporters at the New Yorker hotel after her defeat in the presidential election November 9, 2016 in New York. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:14
Scientists urge Clinton to call for recount
LYNDEN, WA - MAY 07: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech during a rally at the The Northwest Washington Fair and Event Center on May 7, 2016 in Lynden, Washington. Trump became the Republican presumptive nominee following his landslide win in Indiana on Tuesday. (Photo by Matt Mills McKnight/Getty Images)
Matt Mills McKnight/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
LYNDEN, WA - MAY 07: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech during a rally at the The Northwest Washington Fair and Event Center on May 7, 2016 in Lynden, Washington. Trump became the Republican presumptive nominee following his landslide win in Indiana on Tuesday. (Photo by Matt Mills McKnight/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:25
Donald Trump's wild ride
Now playing
01:46
Trump's challenges in the Middle East
Now playing
02:47
Fact checking Trump on crimes by immigrants
Mark Makela/Getty Images/Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
Now playing
01:26
Trump vs. the tape on Obama and the protester
Now playing
01:28
Trump compares Clinton email probe to Watergate
Members of the Secret Service rush Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump off the stage at a campaign rally in Reno, Nev., on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher/AP
Members of the Secret Service rush Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump off the stage at a campaign rally in Reno, Nev., on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Now playing
01:20
Donald Trump rushed off stage by Secret Service
AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
02:16
Trump reads letter from Patriot's coach at rally
US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during rally at the Atkinson Country Club in Atkinson, New Hampshire on November 4, 2016.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during rally at the Atkinson Country Club in Atkinson, New Hampshire on November 4, 2016.
Now playing
01:56
Trump on US officials: 'What a group of losers'
donald trump nice and cool pensacola fl bts_00001523.jpg
donald trump nice and cool pensacola fl bts_00001523.jpg
Now playing
00:49
Trump's mantra in campaign's final week: Stay on point
donald trump nice to hillary clinton and democrats orig cm_00000000.jpg
donald trump nice to hillary clinton and democrats orig cm_00000000.jpg
Now playing
01:52
Audio of Trump praising the Clintons and Democrats
cuomo lewandowski hillary clinton email exchange newday_00002327.jpg
cuomo lewandowski hillary clinton email exchange newday_00002327.jpg
Now playing
01:28
Cuomo grills Lewandowski on Clinton email 'hypocrisy'
Now playing
01:49
Meet the other Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

Story highlights

There are broad areas of overlap between Trump, Sanders

Trump campaign manager on Sanders supporters: 'We will bring those people in'

(CNN) —  

With the Republican presidential nomination within his grasp, Donald Trump is courting an unlikely group of voters: Bernie Sanders supporters.

The GOP front-runner has ratcheted up his rhetoric against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in recent weeks, calling her a “crooked” politician who is unqualified to be president. But when it comes to her challenger, Bernie Sanders, Trump has taken a notably softer tone, praising the Vermont senator’s rhetoric and encouraging him to launch a third-party bid.

“I think Bernie Sanders should run as an independent. I think he’d do great,” Trump said at a victory rally in New York City Tuesday night, after sweeping five GOP contests in the Northeast.

Related: Why I’m voting for Trump

The next morning, Trump said on MSNBC: “Bernie Sanders has a message that’s interesting. I’m going to be taking a lot of the things Bernie said and using them.”

Trump’s advisers say these comments are a preview of more explicit overtures the campaign is ready to make to Sanders’ supporters once the populist liberal exits the 2016 race. That strategy is based on the broad areas of overlap between voters attracted to Trump and those who have flocked to Sanders. Both have angrily denounced the political system as corrupt and expressed deep frustration that Washington is not helping ordinary people. They both oppose international trade deals, saying they hurt American jobs.

And, of course, targeting Sanders supporters could serve to undermine Clinton.

Can Donald Trump avoid a contested convention?

Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said the campaign is ready to bring into the fold anyone in the “feel the Bern” movement who is not inclined to support Clinton in the general election.

“You have two candidates in Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders which have reignited a group of people who have been disenfranchised and disappointed with the way Washington, D.C. and career politicians have run the country,” Lewandowski said. “Bernie Sanders has large crowds — not as large as Mr. Trump’s, but large crowds — and so there is a level of excitement there for people about his messaging and we will bring those people in.”

But even as the two candidates share similar campaign messages, there is a big hurdle to Trump winning over Sanders supporters. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that among Democratic leaning voters who want Sanders to be the party’s nominee, only 13% of them view Trump favorably, while 86% view him unfavorably.

And Sanders has been unequivocal: he wants the eventual Democratic nominee to defeat the Republican.

Still, Trump and Sanders have both caught party leaders by surprise this year with the size and intensity of their followings.

Sanders laying off hundreds of campaign staffers

Trump is a brash Manhattanite who runs a multi-billion dollar real estate empire and has never sought public office; Sanders was born in Brooklyn and has been in public office since the 1980s, advocating for progressive causes like raising the minimum wage and affordable housing.

Despite their starkly different backgrounds, both Trump and Sanders have managed to garner huge followings by tapping into a similar anger that’s erupted into the open in this election cycle. Trump, even as he frequently boasts about his personal wealth, has made a point of disavowing special interests and corporate money like Sanders, billing himself the only candidate that is “self-funding” his presidential campaign. On the stump, the two men both passionately rail against a political system that is designed to prop up the elite while ignoring lower- and middle-class Americans.

Resetting red and blue in the Rust Belt

Marina Coddaire, a 25-year-old woman from Woodbury, Connecticut, is a registered Democrat who is supporting Sanders. But over the weekend, she was in the audience of a Trump rally in Waterbury. It was “curiosity” that brought her there, she told CNN: “I just want to see it for myself.”

“I feel that the core of both what Bernie’s movement is and Trump’s movement is, is the same. This anti-establishment, being upset with the way that our government has been run and how the mistakes that they’ve made have really damaged the middle class and have disenfranchised them,” Coddaire said. “This cry of change. The way that they’ve both gone about it is of course different but I still respect it.”

Coddaire said she would not vote for Clinton in the general election but left the door open — just a crack — to the possibility of supporting Trump in November.

“I really, really, really do not want to vote for Hillary Clinton,” she said. “So when the media says… oh no, they’ll make the switch, they’ll consolidate, I don’t think they will. Because I’m not going to.”

Other Sanders fans are far less willing to consider Trump as an alternative.

At a Sanders rally at Purdue University in Indiana on Wednesday, one Sanders supporter said he would “never even consider” supporting the New York billionaire.

“Trump’s hurdle is, you can’t believe anything he says,” said David Mason, a 42-year-old Lafayette photographer. “Yes, he and Bernie have some overlap on issues. But as people, they couldn’t be more different.”

Bill Hillsman, a political consultant who has advised many independent candidates, said not only is there real potential for Trump to grow his base by reaching out to Sanders fans, it is crucial that Trump win over independents if he wants to win the general election.

“It’s evident many Democrats (and certainly those supporting Bernie) find Hillary’s campaign lacking,” Hillsman said. “So what Trump is doing is smart. The only possible route to a November win for him is on the backs of independent voters.”

CNN’s Eric Bradner contributed to this report