Sanders settles in for fight against resurgent Clinton
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Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems change drug pricing bill to address progressive concerns | Top Republican rejects Dem proposal on surprise medical bills | Vaping group launches Fox News ad blitz Democrats have reason to worry after the last presidential debate Krystal Ball on Sanders debate performance: 'He absolutely hit it out of the park' MORE is signaling he’s not going to go down without a fight against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP warns Graham letter to Pelosi on impeachment could 'backfire' Hillary Clinton praises former administration officials who testified before House as 'gutsy women' Third-quarter fundraising sets Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg apart MORE, whose supporters have renewed confidence after an impressive few weeks for the Democratic presidential front-runner.

Sanders sharply highlighted his policy differences with Clinton at this weekend’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Iowa, arguing he was the one supporting gay marriage when it was unpopular to do so.

Democratic strategists say Sanders needs to go on the attack to blunt Clinton’s momentum.

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“If you’re trailing, you try and go on offense, and you’re going to dial up the contrasts,” said Democratic strategist Doug Thornell, who served as traveling press secretary for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign. “It’s a necessity to go after the front-runner and try and bring them down.”

Sanders, an Independent Vermont senator, and Clinton, a former secretary of State, are the only two candidates in the Democratic primary with double-digit support.

Clinton is the heavy favorite and has the organization to compete with Sanders around the country. But Sanders hopes that by winning the early nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, he could change the calculus.

Sanders has led a number of polls in New Hampshire over the last two months, and a CBS News poll released Sunday found him 3 points behind Clinton in Iowa, where she finished third in 2008.

“It’s too early to tell how [Sanders’s attacks] will translate,” Thornell said. “Maybe it’ll have some impact in Iowa. It’s one of those places where you can go from third to first place and from first to third place relatively quickly.”

Jim Manley, another Democratic strategist, took it a step further, saying Clinton “can’t take anything for granted.”

The White House on Monday also shot down suggestions that Clinton has the Democratic nomination locked up. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is still in the race, would have something to say about that.

“Sanders has demonstrated an ability to energize a significant part of the Democratic electorate,” Earnest said.

Sanders aides did not respond to inquiries on Monday.

Clinton supporters argue she helped herself with a strong performance before the House Select Committee on Benghazi last week. They argued that Republican attacks on Clinton had energized the Democratic base and helped her with independents to boot.

“Liberal policy positions won’t win over the base — Bernie wins on that score, and probably always will — but a fired-up performance in the Benghazi hearing certainly won over some previously undecideds,” said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer, who runs a progressive communications firm.

“Sanders will keep throwing bombs, but Clinton just won herself a great deal of insulation.”

People who expressed doubts about Clinton as her campaign struggled this summer are shifting their tone.

One top fundraiser for President Obama, for example, was eager to see if Vice President Biden would enter the race. The bundler also said he wanted to see whether Clinton would move past the scandal surrounding her use of a private email server as secretary of State and how she’d fare in the first Democratic debate.

And after last week, the donor was sold and will now start ramping up efforts for Clinton.

 

“She has really proven herself over the last couple of weeks,” the fundraiser said. “And she has earned the support. The sentiment right now across the board is game on.”