Sanders must find new way to win in 2020

Sanders must find new way to win in 2020
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Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Angst grips America's most liberal city Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (I-Vt. is learning he’ll need to run a very different race than he did against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE in 2016 to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

Just as in 2016, Sanders appears to face an establishment behemoth in former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Supreme Court and blind partisanship ended the illusion of independent agencies Missed debt ceiling deadline kicks off high-stakes fight Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session MORE, the front-runner in the race who served eight years as the top lieutenant to a popular Democratic president.


But there are also stark differences between Clinton and Biden, and the surrounding races.

In the last cycle, Sanders was the underdog to Clinton and an unknown running after eight years of a Democratic presidency.

This time, he’s a relative favorite in the race along with Biden thanks to his fundraising prowess and national name recognition. And he’s running for the favor of a Democratic electorate desperate to make Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement MORE a one-term president.

Clinton and Sanders were the big fish swimming with relative minnows in 2016. In 2020, Sanders must deal with a field of 22 candidates, including several U.S. senators and former governors.

A few of the candidates, most notably liberal powerhouse Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCalifornia Democrats warn of low turnout in recall election Pelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election MORE (D-Mass.), will be competing with Sanders for the progressive lane — where he pretty much ran by himself in 2016.

Sanders in 2016 was able to hit Clinton over her centrist record, a strategy he’s also employed against Biden.

But there are questions about whether this will work in 2020 with this large of a field, and against Biden.

“There’s real risk here for Sanders,” said Democratic strategist David Wade, who worked for Biden during former President Obama’s 2008 campaign but is not affiliated with a campaign in this cycle.

He argued that Sanders “could build himself up by tearing down his opponent” in 2016.

“Today he’s in a crowded Democratic field with a restive electorate very focused on beating Trump,” Wade said.

Philippe Reines, a longtime senior adviser to Clinton who saw the Sanders hits close-up in 2016, also said the big field could be a problem for Sanders.

“It’s not a two-person race where an attack by one on the other would either work and switch a voter or not work,” Reines said. “In a multi-candidate field, the attack might work, the target might lose a vote — but the attacker might not gain that vote.”

With more than 20 opponents, Reines added, “the attack could be successful but neither the attacker nor the attacked benefit. Now, it might be enough to just bring down the target’s number without bringing your own up.”

Wade compared the current cycle to the 2004 Democratic primary battle, when former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Rep. Richard Gephardt’s (Mo.) scorched-earth attacks on one another ended up helping other candidates in the race. 

Sources close to Sanders say he won’t mount direct attacks on his rivals but that he will draw clear distinctions between himself and his opponents.

“In terms of policy contrast, there are huge differences and he’ll run on that,” said Larry Cohen, the chairman of Our Revolution. “Ninety percent of what he’ll run on is a vision of what the country can be and the other 10 percent will be on contrasting visions, particularly with Biden.” 

Sanders did just that in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” over the weekend.


“Joe voted for the war in Iraq, I led the effort against it,” Sanders said in the interview. “Joe voted for [the North American Free Trade Agreement] and permanent trade relations, trade agreements with China. I led the effort against that. Joe voted for the deregulation of Wall Street, I voted against that.”

Allies say by drawing contrasts, he’s letting his work speak for itself without launching into attacks aimed at tearing down his opponents, specifically Biden. 

“All Bernie has to do is run on his record, talk about policy, and expand his base a little,” one ally said. “He doesn’t need to unleash broadsides against his opponents. He’s leading the pack when it comes to progressives. He now needs to make sure people understand the dividing line between himself and someone like Biden.” 

Cohen said in many ways the race is easier for Sanders this time around because he doesn’t have to build his movement from scratch. His campaign funds, resources and supporters are already in place, putting him at an advantage even with the progressives that share his lane.

“Last time, the strategy was to get the issues out there and use the campaign as a vehicle to do that,” Cohen said. “This time, the strategy is to win.”