How Bernie Sanders became the Democratic primary's early front-runner – CNN, CNN

How Bernie Sanders became the Democratic primary's early front-runner – CNN, CNN

(CNN) Bernie Sanders was stuck in the hospital. His second presidential run was stuck in the mud.

The Sanders campaign, which had been bustling along but stagnant in the polls for nearly eight months, put itself in a holding pattern. Internally, the directive to staff from campaign leadership was simple: Keep your heads down and continue on what you’re doing. But most public messaging was put on pause.

Outside the narrowest bands of Sanders’ inner circle, rumors and speculation about his health – and the future of the campaign – began to intensify. When a candidate, at age , has a heart attack on the campaign trail , people talk. They worry. They consider what comes next – and anguish over their place in a suddenly uncertain next chapter.

In interviews with dozens of staffers and supporters, the conversation about Sanders’ place today, as the leading vote-getter after Iowa and New Hampshire , almost always comes back to that heart attack in October. The fear, the doubt and, inevitably, the revival. On the night he fell ill in Las Vegas, Sanders was lagging in both national and early state polling. To the many teams who already doubted his staying power in such a deep field, the consensus hardened: Sanders, surely, was done for.

A little more than four months later, Sanders is preparing for the Nevada caucuses as the primary’s front-runner. He finished in a virtual tie with former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg in Iowa and won narrowly in New Hampshire. The party’s moderate wing is splintered – with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg splurging on ad buys ahead of Super Tuesday.

Bernie Sanders is in a very weird position

Former Vice President Joe Biden

is gearing up for what could be his last stand in South Carolina . And Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is still searching for her foothold, casting herself as the “unity candidate” as the progressive base consolidates around Sanders and moderates flock to Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Buttigieg. Bernie Sanders is in a very weird position