“The party is in a different place — we need somebody to stand up and defend our core progressive values,” Ben Tulchin, Mr. Sanders’s pollster, said. “And if you’re waffling on key issues like Medicare for All, or if you lack clarity on it because you want to give yourself flexibility in governing, voters will see that.”
This moment, said Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, will require a candidate who sounds clarion opposition to Mr. Trump on race and gender while also embracing a full-spectrum, left-wing agenda.
“It has to be somebody who is really willing to take on race, racism and immigration, but also is willing to take on these big corporations in a way that just hasn’t happened,” said Ms. Jayapal, a rising member of the House’s Progressive Caucus.
To strategists who worked on the 2018 midterms, however, the enormous attention being paid to a handful of outspoken liberals like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York misses the nonideological approach of many of the party’s successful candidates for governor and Congress.
“There wasn’t a demand among Democratic primary voters for litmus tests,” said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster.
And Ms. Greenberg, who is working for former Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, a possible 2020 candidate, contends that electoral viability will be more central in the coming Democratic presidential primary than in any recent election.
“Trump has framed our politics,” she said. “Everything is a reaction to Trump.”
Or, as Mr. Belcher put it: “This anger about our divisions and where our country is going will be front and center — and the candidate who can speak to this division and be a direct contrast to Trump is going to do really well.”