How Bernie Sanders Learned to Love Campaigning in California

“Before she dropped out, Bernie Sanders was smart enough to come to me, talk to me personally,” Mr. Jones-Sawyer said at the Venice Beach rally, where he delivered one of the warm-up speeches for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Mr. Sanders. “Then, all of a sudden, it happened. She wasn’t in. And then, I reread his criminal justice plan and realized, for my district, South L.A., it works great.”

Javier Gonzalez, a Californian who was Mr. Sanders’s deputy field director for Western states in 2016, said the 2020 operation is far more professional. Four years ago the staff members were a combination of operatives the Clinton campaign didn’t want and true believers who had never been involved in politics before, he said.

“I would imagine Bernie had a lot more high-level applicants this time. We were making half the stuff up as we went along,” Mr. Gonzalez said, using a more pungent word than stuff.

Mr. Weaver, who was Mr. Sanders’s campaign manager in 2016, said the team learned many lessons that year that it is leaning on in this race.

“Having done this before really does matter, right?” Mr. Weaver said. “And there’s mistakes we made last time — I won’t delineate here — that we won’t make again.”

California, with 40 million people, has long been considered impossible to win through campaign organization and tactical spending alone. It’s too big and, with 15 media markets, too expensive to saturate with television advertising — though the billionaire candidates Tom Steyer and Michael R. Bloomberg seem poised to test that proposition this year.

Californians can vote by mail as soon as the day after Iowa’s Feb. 3 caucuses, meaning voters here might be influenced more by the results in the first four states than by any contact they receive from a campaign organizer or ads they see on TV.

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