Sanders: Early Strength Can Beat Trump 02/19 06:14
Since the early days of Sanders' second presidential campaign, he and his
supporters have sought to allay concerns that he's a fringe candidate whose
call for political revolution would doom the party to another humiliating
defeat. The strong showing in Iowa and New Hampshire gives him fresh evidence
to make that case.
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Terry Reece has long been skeptical that voters would back
Bernie Sanders, a 78-year-old self-described democratic socialist who is just
months removed from a heart attack. Then the Vermont senator essentially tied
for first place in the Democratic Party's Iowa caucuses and won its New
That forced Reece to rethink his assumptions about who can win the
nomination. After months of leaning toward former Vice President Joe Biden,
Reece filled out a preference card for Sanders during early voting this week in
the Nevada caucuses.
"I think that people are kind of wanting to turn the pages and get more
radical, or switch from the status quo," said Reece, a 62-year-old African
American who owns a small media company in Las Vegas.
That's exactly the sentiment Sanders is counting on to carry him to victory
in the battle to take on President Donald Trump. Since the early days of
Sanders' second presidential campaign, he and his supporters have sought to
allay concerns that he's a fringe candidate whose call for political revolution
would doom the party to another humiliating defeat. The strong showing in Iowa
and New Hampshire gives him fresh evidence to make that case.
"The reason that we are going to win here in Nevada, with your help, the
reason that we are going to win the Democratic nomination, with your help, the
reason we are going to beat Trump is we have an agenda that speaks to the needs
of working families, not the billionaire class," Sanders told a crowd at the
University of Nevada Las Vegas on Tuesday.
Sanders faces high expectations in Nevada, which formally holds its
Democratic presidential caucuses on Saturday. He has a strong organization and
has generated enthusiasm among younger and Latino voters. But there are plenty
of hurdles that could dent his confidence in the weeks ahead.
Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg is expected to use his debate stage
premiere on Wednesday to attack Sanders' broad call for economic and political
revolution as unworkable and too liberal for more mainstream voters who simply
want to defeat Trump. Sanders hasn't fully united the party's liberal wing and
was denied the most coveted union endorsement in Nevada. His trademark
"Medicare for All" proposal could unnerve voters in both major political
parties who worry about higher taxes and the loss of private health insurance.
And while Sanders has notched a win, he has yet to post a commanding
victory. Pete Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana,
essentially tied with Sanders in Iowa and finished closely behind him in New
Hampshire, a state the senator won by more than 20 percentage points in 2016.
Campaigning in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Buttigieg again raised questions about
whether Sanders could unify the party against Trump.
"Sen. Sanders, I think, speaks to a lot of ideals that we all share,"
Buttigieg said. "But right now we need to make sure we're drawing as many
people as we can into our coalition. And if the message goes out, 'Your choices
are you either need to be for a revolution or you must be for the status quo,'
I don't think most of us see ourselves in that picture."
But as the Democratic contest unfolds, many voters may see a win as a win
and make their decisions accordingly, said Tim Miller, a former strategist with
Jeb Bush's failed Republican presidential campaign in 2016.
"Voters want a winner," Miller said. "Voters want someone who can win in
November, and there is a sheen that comes from winning primaries."
Miller is one of several analysts in both parties who see parallels between
the Republican contest in 2016 and this year's Democratic primary. In both
cases, a party outsider held a grip on a tight group of supporters while a bevy
of centrists split the vote against him. As Trump kept scoring victories in the
2016 primaries, he eventually won backing from GOP voters who might not have
liked him but were focused on defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The question for Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, is whether
the party will similarly warm to him if he can pile up more victories. For now,
much of the Democratic establishment thinks it's impossible for him to win the
presidency during a growing economy. Some House Democrats are openly expressing
concern that a Sanders nomination could cost the party control of that chamber.
Miller said that argument may not resonate with Democratic voters who, like
Trump supporters, are increasingly skeptical of political institutions.
"A lot of voters have lost confidence in their ability to predict who will
win," he said.
Sanders could have a challenging time finding a winning path against Trump.
He is poorly positioned in the perennial swing state of Florida, with its older
voters and population of Cuban immigrants, many of whom have a visceral dislike
of socialism. It's unlikely that Sanders could flip growing Sun Belt states
like Arizona, Georgia or Texas, because a Democratic victory in those places
depends on both motivating the states' expanding minority populations and
converting moderate white Republicans.
That leaves Sanders' clearest path through the trio of Rust Belt states that
gave Trump his 2016 victory --- Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Notably,
Sanders has proposed banning fracking, which could be a liability in
Pennsylvania, where the drilling process is a key part of the state's economy.
But Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Sanders, said the senator has routinely
been underestimated by election handicappers.
"This electability thing has been greatly overblown by candidates who had a
more traditional approach but haven't proved that electable," Weaver said. "I
do think the American people are hungry for someone who will take on the
political and economic elite."
Weaver said Sanders wins about one-quarter of Republicans in his home state
in Vermont and noted that he won 23 states in the long 2016 Democratic primary
against Clinton. He identified rural Western states like Montana and the
Dakotas as places a Sanders campaign could contest in the general election, and
added that Democratic gubernatorial candidates in the key Rust Belt states of
Michigan and Wisconsin asked Sanders to campaign for them in 2016.
"Some of the moderates say, 'We've seen the polls and we want Bernie Sanders
here in the general election,'" Weaver said.
Still, Sanders seems to be retooling his stump speech in ways that might
ease concerns from some moderates. As he campaigned in Nevada over the past
several days, he didn't call for political revolution or mention democratic
And when he attacks his rivals, Sanders is focusing less on ideological
purity and more on what it will take to beat Trump.
"In order to win in November, we are going to need a multi-generational,
multiracial campaign of energy and excitement that creates the highest voter
turnout in American history," he said at the Clark County Democratic Party
dinner on Saturday.
Then he turned to Bloomberg, the billionaire who is emerging as a centrist
foil to Sanders.
"The simple truth is Mayor Bloomberg, with all of his money, will not create
the sort of energy and excitement to have the voter turnout we must have to
defeat Donald Trump," Sanders said.
That's resonating among his supporters. Jeanette Kano, an information
technology worker in Las Vegas, knows plenty of Trump Republicans from growing
up in Kansas.
"They say they would have voted for Bernie," she said.
She thinks Sanders can peel that sort of voter from the president.
Margaret Hines, a writer and artist in Reno, voted for Clinton in the 2016
primary but backs Sanders this time precisely because of the significant
changes he's proposed.
"I don't think vanilla is going to do it this time," she said.