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GOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman

GOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman
© Bonnie Cash

Republicans are eagerly watching Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPelosi pushes for drug pricing measure amid uncertainty from White House White House sees GOP proposal as legitimate starting point The Memo: Washington's fake debate on 'bipartisanship' MORE’s (I-Vt.) surge toward the Democratic presidential nomination.

GOP lawmakers and strategists believe Sanders, who identifies as a democratic socialist, is not only beatable in November but could have a disastrous down-ballot impact for Democrats in key congressional races.

“I would think that in a lot of those swing states it’s a very complicated factor to have him at the top of the ticket if you’re a down-ballot Democrat running for House or Senate, I would be really concerned,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP sees immigration as path to regain power Senate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban Senate GOP crafts outlines for infrastructure counter proposal MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.

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Asked if he thought Sanders’s surge was a “blessing,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn, Sinema unveil bill aimed at confronting border surge US Chamber of Commerce comes out in support of bipartisan, bicameral immigration bill GOP sees immigration as path to regain power MORE (R-Texas), who is up for reelection, called it “a little scary that there would be that much support for an avowed socialist.”

“It splits the Democratic voters, the people who don’t like President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: LeBron James's 'racist rants' are divisive, nasty North Carolina man accused of fraudulently obtaining .5M in PPP loans Biden announces picks to lead oceans, lands agencies MORE very much but when presented with that option might say, ‘Well I’m not going to vote for a socialist. I’ll vote for President Trump rather than do that,’ ” Cornyn said.

The predictions that a Sanders nomination would be a headache for Democrats comes as he holds a lead in the hunt for delegates while moderates remain torn among several potential alternatives.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTim Scott to deliver GOP response to Biden's speech to Congress GOP sees immigration as path to regain power Bipartisan group of senators holds immigration talks amid border surge MORE (R-Fla.), in a video taken while he appeared to be driving down a road, said “unless the Democratic establishment steals it from him,” Sanders would be the nominee.

“It’s a big deal for America, and I hope people start waking up to that reality,” Rubio added.

Sanders, who has diversified his base since his failed 2016 White House run, is showing up as a boogeyman for Republicans looking to defeat Democrats up and down the ballot.

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Steve Guest, the Republican National Committee’s rapid response director, argued on Monday that Sanders’s ideas are a “danger to America and to our way of life.”

“Good luck Democrats who may try and distance themselves from Sanders’s praise of communist dictators,” he added.

Sanders caused a headache for Florida Democrats on Monday when the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) seized on remarks about Cuba he made the night before on “60 Minutes,” saying that “it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad” just because it is associated with Fidel Castro.

In two separate email blasts by the NRCC, the group questioned if Florida Reps. Donna ShalalaDonna Edna ShalalaBiden under pressure to spell out Cuba policy It's time for a second Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health Biden's new challenge: Holding Trump accountable MORE (D) and Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyTrump hands Rubio coveted reelection endorsement in Florida Blue Dogs push House leadership to allow more member input Don't cut or condition US military aid to Israel MORE (D) would support a “Castro fanboy.” Both have disavowed Sanders’s comments.

“Does this mean Stephanie Murphy will refuse to support Sanders when he is the nominee? Or will she upset her socialist base instead?” asked Camille Gallo, a spokeswoman for the NRCC.

A GOP strategist pledged that Republicans would use Sanders as an anchor to pull down Democratic Senate hopefuls.

“Right now, Bernie is their front-runner, and socialism doesn’t sell in the Atlanta suburbs, in their Charlotte suburbs and in the Phoenix suburbs,” the GOP strategist said, referring to the Senate races in Georgia, North Carolina and Arizona.  

Sanders, who supports free college education and “Medicare for All,” is already being name-dropped in key Senate races as Republicans try to activate their base. While most of the 24 Senate seats the GOP is defending are in safe Republican states, a handful of key toss-up races are expected to make or break the GOP efforts to hold onto the majority.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 MORE (R-Colo.), appearing with Trump at a Colorado rally last week, pledged that Republicans would fight “socialism.”

“There was a dangerous thing that happened in 2016. It was the normalization of socialism by Bernie Sanders,” he said.

Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyArizona state senator announces bid for Kirkpatrick's seat Democratic Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick says she won't seek reelection Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R-Ariz.) recently called former astronaut Mark Kelly, who is likely to be her Democratic opponent, the “the 51st vote for all of Bernie’s wildest Soviet-style fantasies.”

McSally is running for the final two years of the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain rejects idea of running for office: 'I've been there' Bush says he doesn't criticize other presidents to avoid risking friendship with Michelle Obama 'Real Housewives of the GOP' — Wannabe reality show narcissists commandeer the party MORE’s (R) term. Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), has distanced himself from the tag, noting that he’s a “capitalist.”

Former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDOJ to probe Minneapolis police Garland rescinds Trump-era memo curtailing consent decrees Biden picks vocal Trump critics to lead immigration agencies MORE, who is trying to reclaim his old Senate seat in Alabama, sent out a fundraising blast earlier this month after Sanders won New Hampshire, warning about the spread of “socialism.”

“I know Bernie Sanders well. I confronted his extreme ideas and spending policies for years on the Senate Budget committee where we both served. I went toe to toe many times with him. I was the leading opponent of these extreme ideas on the committee,” he said in the email to supporters.

Republicans have worked for months to make the 2020 election a referendum on “socialism.” It’s a narrative they think is a good fit for Sanders.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll found that 31 percent of adults say they would be less likely to support Sanders if he was labeled as a democratic socialist and 38 percent said so when labeled as a socialist.

Even as Republicans have worked overtime to make Sanders the face of the Democratic Party, there are a slew of warning signs against underestimating the 78-year-old’s potential strength as a general election candidate.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll found Sanders leading Trump in a potential head-to-head match-up, similar to several of the Democratic candidates.

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It also found that 30 percent of Democrats or Democratic-leaning voters believe Sanders is the best choice to beat Trump — the highest percentage for anyone in the still-crowded 2020 primary field.

Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottTim Scott to deliver GOP response to Biden's speech to Congress The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Chauvin conviction puts renewed focus on police reform New signs of progress emerge on police reform MORE (R-S.C.) warned during an interview with “CBS This Morning” that he thought Sanders is Trump’s most difficult potential opponent.

“I would say that the biggest threat to President Trump is President Trump. ... If there is a second choice other than himself it would be Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders brings that outside game in a similar fashion that President Trump did in 2016,” Scott said Monday.