Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight MORE (I-Vt.) let loose at a rally on Thursday, accusing Democratic Party elites of working against his ascendent campaign for president and asserting that his top rival in South Carolina, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight Is Texas learning to love ObamaCare? Romney warns Trump: Don't interfere with coronavirus relief oversight MORE, would be a weak opponent against President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE.

Speaking at a rally at Wofford College, a small liberal arts college in South Carolina’s Upcountry, Sanders boasted about his back-to-back wins in the New Hampshire primary and Nevada caucuses and claimed a “popular vote” victory in Iowa. That cluster of wins, he said, had put the Democratic establishment on edge.

“The establishment sees turnouts like this. You’re making them very nervous,” Sanders told a crowded gymnasium of nearly 2,000 supporters, according to an estimate released by his campaign.

“When they see us winning in Iowa and New Hampshire and Nevada, they get even more nervous. They’re trying to come up with reasons as to why people shouldn’t vote for us. And one of the reasons you see is Bernie can’t beat Trump.”

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He added: “I would suggest to those people ... take a look at the last 50 national polls and you will find on 47 of those 50, Bernie beats Trump. Take a look at the key battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. Bernie beats Trump.”

Sanders also took aim at Biden, insisting that the former vice president and nominal front-runner in South Carolina would ultimately fail to energize voters in the general election and consequently cede the White House to Trump for another four years.

Sanders hammered Biden over his decades-long record in the Senate, pointing to his opponent’s vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq nearly 18 years ago and his support for international trade deals that Sanders blamed for eviscerating the American working class.

“I don’t believe that Joe can beat Trump when he voted for the war in Iraq,” Sanders said. “I don’t believe Joe can beat Trump when people understand he voted with NAFTA and [Permanent Normal Trade Relations] with China. Terrible trade agreements that cost us millions of jobs.”

Sanders’s remarks on Thursday, just two days before the South Carolina primary, were something of a break from routine for a candidate known to repeat the same talking points — the need for a "Medicare for All" health care system and a $15-an-hour minimum wage, among other topics.

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The comments come as some Democratic lawmakers pushed back against Sanders’s assertion that the candidate who wins the most delegates to the party’s national convention should be the party’s nominee — even if that candidate doesn’t receive a majority of delegates.

But the remarks also reflected his current standing in the first-in-the-South primary state. After top performances in the first three nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, Biden appears to be the favorite to win in South Carolina.

Three polls of voters in the state released Thursday showed Biden leading Sanders. Two of them put the former vice president ahead of his closest rivals by double digits, a sign that he has managed to hold onto his political strength in South Carolina even after worse-than-expected finishes in the first three states.

Biden’s strength in South Carolina owes largely to his strong support among black voters, who are expected to make up more than 60 percent of the Democratic primary electorate Saturday. While other candidates, including Sanders and billionaire activist Tom SteyerTom SteyerProgressive advocates propose T 'green stimulus' plan Candidates want data privacy rules, except for their own campaigns Budowsky: Biden should pull together a 'dream team of rivals' MORE, have sought to cut into Biden’s advantage with those voters, no one has come close to matching it.

But even if Biden notches an outsize win in the Palmetto State on Saturday, he still faces a set of challenges on Super Tuesday, when 14 states will hold their primaries. Sanders holds a wide polling lead in California, the most delegate-rich state to vote on Super Tuesday, and appears on track to win at least a few other states, including his home state of Vermont, that day.

Biden also has been somewhat slow to begin his campaign in Super Tuesday states. His ad spending in those states has been eclipsed by all of his top rivals, and the super PAC supporting him, Unite the Country, only recently began investing in those states.

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At the same time, Biden is only one of a handful of candidates vying for the support of moderate voters in the primary, and the crowded state of the centrist lane has so far prevented anyone in particular from emerging as a clear alternative to Sanders.

Sanders, meanwhile, is banking heavily on a series of wins on Super Tuesday to extend his delegate lead and cement his frontrunner status in the race. In a sign that he is not expecting a first-place finish in South Carolina, he will hold a pair of events on Saturday in Virginia, one of the 14 states to vote on Super Tuesday.

At his rally in Spartanburg on Thursday, Sanders projected confidence in his chances in the South Carolina primary. But he also talked up his potential wins on Super Tuesday, saying that those would help pave his way to the Democratic nomination.

“We’re closing that gap every day,” Sanders said. “If we can win here in South Carolina, I think we’re going to do well on Super Tuesday all across this country. I think we’re going to win the Democratic nomination. And I think we’re going to defeat Donald Trump.”