How Bernie Sanders Inspired Candidates Across the Country

PHOTO: Sen. Bernie Sanders, campaigns for Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, in Omaha, Nebraska, Nov. 4, 2016.PlayNati Harnik/AP Photo
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Heidi Harmon left the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer early. She texted at the time that it was "all too depressing" and she wanted to focus on "how best to move forward." She had been an active Bernie Sanders supporter and helped run his campaign in her hometown of San Luis Obispo, California.

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In July, she road-tripped with others who had felt "the Bern" all the way across the country to the convention to serve as one of Sanders' national delegates. She hoped the caravan journey would re-connect folks and help them find solidarity in a post-primary campaign world.

"The experience at the convention was really hard," she told ABC News during an interview in August. "Having the WikiLeaks [emails] come out and confirming what all of us were more or less expecting ... I left upset and felt like giving up. The deck was so stacked. We worked so hard and the fundamental elements of the system are so just frustrating and seemingly insurmountable," she went on, referring to hacked emails that suggested the Democratic Party had favored Hillary Clinton.

But Harmon said her post-convention depression didn't last long. Soon after she returned to California, a friend emailed her and asked her to run for mayor of San Luis Obispo.

"I just thought, 'This is what Bernie suggested. This is what Bernie is asking us to do,'" she said. "If we really care that much, then going home and getting mad, well, hopefully that will be short and hopefully people will use those feelings of frustration and concern to get engaged."

The incumbent, also a Democrat, was running unopposed. So, Harmon threw her hat in the ring and three months later -– on the eve of Election Day -- it looks like she could even win.

Harmon is one of hundreds of candidates running for office this year who were inspired by the independent Vermont senator who gave Clinton a run for her money and linked up and organized with peers who also worked on his campaign.

According to staff at Sanders' legacy organization, Our Revolution, more than 15,000 people signed up on their website over the summer expressing interest and seeking information about running for office one day. The group, which formally got off the ground in August, vetted and backed 104 of those folks.

"Fifty of our candidates are challenging Republicans or Democrats who receive money corporate interest, an additional 30 are running for open seats. Only about 20 percent of those in our list of endorsements are incumbent. The other 80 percent of candidates are mostly part of the pool of people who decided to run because of Bernie," Erika Andiola with Our Revolution wrote to ABC this week. "We have raised almost$1,250,000 for these candidates, and we are approaching 1,000,000 text messages and 100,000 calls made the Bernie volunteers. This is a long term fight, and we will continue to work with and train those who are still motivated to run on Bernie's platform for local and federal seats."

Harmon was not even on the group's list.

Sanders' former staff and progressives organizers around the country predict that the lasting legacy of his presidential campaign will be seen, even in small ways, in the type of people seeking and securing office at all levels for years to come.

"The senator taught us that if we want things to change, if we want to fight against the status quo, we have to start at the grassroots level... This is a process that doesn't end on November 8. We're going to work to keep people engaged, so we'll see a new generation of Bernie-crats in cycles to come," Shannon Jackson, executive director of Our Revolution, told ABC. "The candidates running this cycle didn't have to be recruited, they were inspired by his message and the progressive values of the political revolution."

Harmon may not have the experience of her opponent, but people in town who have followed the race closely applaud her for pouring her heart into it. She did her homework and the legwork, holding dozens and dozens of community meetings (sometimes with fewer than 10 people) to facilitate conversations and listen to ideas.

Harmon, who is idealistic and a little quirky -- she often wears a flower in her hair -- said "November 9 is at least as important as November 8."

And she is committed to Sanders' brand of progressivism: "How can we galvanize people, grow a strong community and keep this movement moving so that no matter who is president that person is held accountable by the people in a meaningful real actionable way?"

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