Sanders charges forward with 2020 bid despite long odds

Sanders charges forward with 2020 bid despite long odds

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden formally clinches Democratic presidential nomination OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump signs order removing environmental reviews for major projects | New Trump air rule will limit future pollution regulations, critics say | DNC climate group calls for larger federal investment on climate than Biden plan Google: Chinese and Iranian hackers targeting Biden, Trump campaigns MORE (I-Vt.) is charging forward with his presidential campaign even as former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden formally clinches Democratic presidential nomination The Memo: Job numbers boost Trump and challenge Biden Chris Wallace: Jobs numbers show 'the political resilience of Donald Trump' MORE seeks to draw the nominating contest to a close and pivot to a general election campaign against President TrumpDonald John TrumpTwitter CEO: 'Not true' that removing Trump campaign video was illegal, as president has claimed Biden formally clinches Democratic presidential nomination Barr says he didn't give 'tactical' command to clear Lafayette protesters MORE.

Biden has opened up a nearly insurmountable delegate lead over Sanders in recent weeks, and even some of the Vermont senator’s allies acknowledge that his path to the Democratic nomination has all but closed.

After a thumping in the Florida, Illinois and Arizona primaries last week, Sanders’s team said that he was “reassessing” his campaign, stoking speculation that he would soon drop out of the race.

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But he has signaled otherwise in recent days. A spokesperson for the Vermont senator said this week that Sanders would participate in a Democratic primary debate next month if one is held, and his campaign has also begun bulking up its staff in New York ahead of the state’s April 28 primary.

A campaign source also told The Hill that the Sanders campaign will be “making the case for our bold proposals in the remaining 27 states.”

Sanders also sees an opening to use his massive following and political stature to wield influence over the nation’s coronavirus response, as well as to keep Biden on his toes in the run-up to the general election, despite some worries by Democrats that a prolonged race will hurt the party in November.

“I talk to so many people who say that they’re afraid that if Sen. Sanders drops out they won’t get a chance to vote for him,” said Sanders campaign co-chair Nina Turner. “That might not be important to the people who are saying this should be shut down, but it’s important to a lot of us who believe in the power of democracy that these people get a chance to cast their ballots.”

That strategy has become increasingly evident in recent days. Sanders is no longer advertising or fundraising for his campaign, though he has held livestreams focused on the coronavirus and has raised money for relief efforts.

“He’s not running advertising. He’s not attacking Joe Biden,” said Jonathan Tasini, a progressive strategist and national surrogate for Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign. “It’s really all focused on Trump and how do we respond to this crisis? He’s still a candidate, but he’s acting as a political leader at the front of a movement.”

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Tasini said there’s also little onus for Sanders to bow out of the race. He said that Biden’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has so far been lackluster and that Sanders is taking advantage of his digital operations, national profile and position in the Senate to help fill the void.

“There is nothing stopping Joe Biden from having a coherent regular daily critique of Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders isn’t blocking that. The problem is Joe Biden and his incompetent advisers,” he said. “This constant bringing up of Bernie really is a comment on the weakness and disorganization of Joe Biden.”

The Sanders campaign noted that he’s the only member of the Senate still in the presidential race, providing an opening for him to influence policy on Capitol Hill and use his bully pulpit as a presidential contender to shape public perceptions nationally.

Allies note that he was the first person to call for at least a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, and point to how he stepped in when some GOP senators sought to cut unemployment benefits from the bill at the last minute.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) cited Sanders’s leadership on the coronavirus in a recent op-ed calling for him to stay in the race.

“It is only March,” UTLA wrote. “The Democratic Party currently does not have a platform that addresses the short-term of how we get through the Coronavirus crisis, or the long-term of how we address ... chronic issues. Bernie Sanders is the candidate who has most deeply addressed these issues, and how we need to re-imagine and re-construct our society.”

Biden has yet to win the 1,991 delegates he will need to secure the Democratic nomination. And because a handful of states have postponed their primaries and caucuses amid the coronavirus outbreak, he won’t be able to officially clinch the nomination until June, providing Sanders with a mathematical argument for staying in the race for months to come.

“When Joe Biden is at 50 percent plus one, he’s the nominee,” said Jim Zogby, a Democratic National Committee (DNC) member who has spoken to Sanders recently. “Until then, we still have a contest.”

“Bernie has 900-plus delegates and a solid constituency of supporters in all the states yet to come,” he added. “And there are people saying he should drop out? That makes no sense to me. That’s disrespectful to a key component of the party.”

Biden hasn’t put any public pressure on Sanders to end his campaign. Asked in an interview on CNN this week about the Vermot senator’s presence in the race, Biden answered with little more than a shrug, saying that Sanders would have to decide for himself whether to drop out.

But Biden has also signaled that he’s ready for the primary race to come to an end. Speaking to reporters in a virtual press briefing on Wednesday, Biden said that there had been enough primary debates and that it was time to move on to the next phase of the race.

“My focus is just dealing with this crisis right now,” he said. “I haven’t thought about any more debates. I think we’ve had enough debates. I think we should get on with this."

In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, Sanders fired back at Biden’s suggestion that there shouldn’t be another debate, saying that, in the face of a national crisis, people want “to hear the ideas of candidates as to how we got into this disaster.”

For now, it’s unclear whether there will even be a debate. The DNC has previously said that there would be 12 debates and only 11 have been held, but no such event has been scheduled for April. The DNC did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment on whether there will be a debate.

Some allies in Sanders's orbit are encouraging him to continue on, arguing that the recently delayed primaries and prolonged contest could give him time to turn the tides of the race and cast himself as an effective alternative to Biden.

And they say that Sanders’s presence will keep grassroots liberals engaged and energized in the months between now and the convention.

“We need Sen. Sanders’s strong voice, not only to keep pushing Joe Biden, but to keep the entire Democratic Party on its toes and to avoid sliding back into neoliberalism,” said Turner. “And we know that people who vote in the primaries will probably vote in the general election, but there’s no assurance that young people, people in marginalized communities or independents who lean Democratic will turn out to vote. That’s the senator’s strength and he can help drive them out by staying at the forefront here.”

But one former aide acknowledged that such a comeback is improbable for Sanders and would require a monumental shift in the dynamics of the race that appears unlikely.

“There are multiple camps that he’s listening to,” the former aide said. “There are the folks who want to keep the revolution going for their own personal reasons — more radical dead-enders who thrive on grievance and conflict. And then I think he’s probably got around him some rational players that are trying to work him through what he wants and how to land this thing.”

“In that context, I think he’s thinking about — he knows he can’t win, he’s a smart politician. I think he’s trying to figure out how to properly endorse Biden, how do they beat Trump and, hopefully, if there is a Biden presidency, how does he move his agenda.”