Looking back on the Bernie Sanders for president campaign, I have one question:

What was it?

Is his organization going become a fixture in our politics – a kind of left-wing tea party – or will it just fade away like every other losing campaign?

Can Sanders’ transfer his national following to other candidates, or was it unique to him?

Was that a movement we saw, or just a moment?

Sanders’ supporters feel like they’ve already had an impact.

“We have structurally changed the Democratic Party,” said state Rep. Diane Russell, who was a Sanders delegate in Philadelphia. “People are running on Bernie’s agenda.”

Most of Sanders’ top issues were incorporated into the Democratic platfrom this year. Hillary Clinton sounded like a social democrat when she accepted the nomination, adopting or moving closer to Sanders’ positions on trade, debt-free college and the minimum wage.

After the election, Sanders will have some tools that he never had when he represented 626,000 Vermonters in the Senate. Sanders got 12 million votes in all the primaries and raised $227 million, mostly in small donations. He has an email list with millions of names. He can mobilize constituents in every state on any issue with very little effort. That will make him a force, Russell says.

And if he decides to get involved in down-ballot races, he can put more allies in Congress and state legislatures, said Troy Jackson, a logger from Allagash and a Democratic candidate for the Maine Senate. Jackson was elected one of two Maine representatives to the Democratic National Committee this spring, which made him the only Maine super delegate to vote for Sanders.

Jackson says Sanders stepped into a void left by Democrats who say they care about working people, but don’t do much for them when they are in office. Sanders was different,

“What I want when I vote is someone who is going to fight for me, and these Democrats come in saying ‘let’s negotiate and get along,'” he said. “I’m tired of having my life negotiated on.”

We have seen insurgent campaigns that brought outsiders into politics, like Jerry Brown’s presidential run in 1992. But there was no organization behind it, and when Brown went back to California, there was no one around to build on what he’d started. The same was true of Ross Perot’s Reform Party, which fizzled when its founder lost interest.

In Maine we have seen campaigns around issues like equal rights, marriage equality and clean elections or longstanding environmental and peace groups, but they don’t produce leaders with a message broad enough to reach beyond very specific interests.

The Occupy Wall Street movement changed the political debate, but it never translated into an electoral force.

What Sanders has is a combination of a big message – wealth inequality is killing the American dream – combined with a big organization. It’s something America hasn’t seen since Barry Goldwater made the Republican Party the conservative party in 1964. Goldwater lost his race for the White House, too, but his influence is still mighty in the party of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Paul Ryan.

There are some obstacles in the way of the Sanders and his supporters if they are going to represent an ongoing movement.

For instance, no one knows if they will stick together and follow Sanders’ endorsment of Hillary Clinton. If the group splinters on this issue, it won’t have much credibility later.

And elections are exciting. People tend to lose interest in between elections. Sanders would have to break that mold if he can keep his people active and involved during the long boring process of governing.

Seth Berner of Portland, a Sanders delegate who is a veteran activist in the Green Pary as well as the environmental and peace movements, believes this time it could work. The sheer size of the group Sanders brought together will be able to survive when people get tired and fall away, and has the potential to grow, especially among the economic populists who are drawn to Trump.

As for Sanders, Berner says, he has already had a impact.

“I don’t think that there has been enough attention in this country to the discussion of competing ideas,” he said. Sanders’ emphasis on core issues instead of sound bites and gaffes brought ideas back to the center. “And that’s a pretty good legacy.”

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