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Democratic presidential candidate Bernie SandersBernie SandersWhat we know and don’t know about Trump’s healthcare plans Sanders to Trump: 'Women aren’t going back to second-class citizenship' Sanders: 'Amusing' that Trump attacked establishment sitting right behind him MORE's campaign believes he has a better chance of defeating the Republican nominee in the general election than Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonClinton: Photos from women’s march ‘awe-inspiring’ Ex-Clinton aide: Spicer should have resigned rather than lie Zuckerberg moves spark 2020 speculation MORE does.
Sanders's allies have long said the media is overlooking polling that shows Sanders outperforming Clinton in head-to-head match-ups against Republicans.
In a conference call with reporters Tuesday about the state of the race, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver and other top advisers made the case directly.
“The truth of the matter is if you look at recent polling, you’ll see that in many cases, Sanders is the strongest general election candidate among the Democrats,” Weaver said.
“He has a proven record of appealing to Republicans, and especially rural Republicans, so I think as the race goes along, people will internalize that,” he added.
“Bernie as the nominee puts our party in a stronger position to defeat Republicans.”
The campaign pointed to the large crowds Sanders attracts on the campaign trail as evidence that he generates more enthusiasm than Clinton, the prohibitive front-runner nationally and in every early-voting state except for New Hampshire.
Weaver argued that the excitement around Sanders will translate to down-ballot gains for Democrats if he’s the nominee.
“We’ve maintained this energy and enthusiasm throughout, and it will be key to our success in the primaries and caucuses, as well as to our general election victory in November,” Weaver said.
“A low-turnout, low-energy election would be disastrous for Democrats,” he continued. “Sen. Sanders has energized young people and voters who don’t often participate, which will create a wave of big gains for Democrats at the state level, in Congress and up to the White House.”
The electability argument is crucial to the Sanders campaign, which is battling the perception that he is not a viable general election candidate.
The campaign is still seeking to make inroads with the minority voters who have helped boost Clinton to substantial leads in many public opinion surveys.
The Sanders campaign said recent national polls show the trend is reversing, even if polls from early-voting states still show Clinton maintaining substantial leads among nonwhite voters.
“Sen. Sanders is getting a second look from a lot of nonwhite voters,” said Weaver, who claimed that Sanders's focus on institutional racism, criminal justice reform and immigration reform is bringing more minorities into the fold.
“Bernie was not well-known in many communities [before he launched his White House bid], but as the campaign has gone along, we’re seeing movement on the national level with nonwhite voters,” he said.
Sanders has acknowledged that as the senator from a small, rural, mostly white state in the upper northeast, many minority voters don’t trust him yet because they don’t know him well enough.
The Sanders team on Tuesday also made the case that it’s running a top-flight campaign built for the long haul to maximize the accumulation of delegates.
Weaver noted that “just a few short months ago,” the campaign had “no staff, no money, no nothing,” and now it has major operations in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, the first four states to vote this year.
In those states, the campaign claims it has knocked on 500,000 doors and made 2.5 million phone calls to potential Democratic primary voters and caucusgoers.
Those February contests are followed by votes around the country on March 1, including states where the Sanders campaign claims it has “thousands and thousands” of volunteers holding events and organizing to maximize turnout.
The campaign said it is about “halfway staffed” in those 11 states and continues to build on the estimated 60 paid staffers there.
The ground game is supplemented by Sanders's impressive fundraising efforts. He raised about $73 million this year, mostly through small-dollar donors who the campaign says have not maxed out and can therefore continue giving throughout the cycle.
The campaign said it ended 2015 with $28 million on hand.
“We’ve built the infrastructure and have access to the resources that will allow us to go toe-to-toe with our Democratic competitors all the way to the convention next summer,” Weaver said.
Still, the Clinton campaign blew past its $100 million fundraising goal for 2015 and been airing ads for months longer than Sanders has.
The Sanders campaign says it is ramping up its media buys after ceding several months of airtime early on to Clinton.
Sanders now has television and radio ads in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, as well as English- and Spanish-language radio ads in Nevada.