Biden and Bernie have some serious outreach to do
This week was a historic whirlwind of a real-life political telenovela that has flipped the Democratic primary landscape on its head. Not seven days ago, former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign was on life support, and he was seen as a loser. Today he is a political Lazarus with not only renewed life but also frontrunner status. He is ahead in delegates and in the popular vote.
The race is not over by any stretch. As we have seen, anything can happen, and quickly. But with the results of a magnificent and unpredicted successful Super Tuesday for Biden that included the withdrawal and subsequent endorsement of former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the endorsements of former rivals former mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and the withdrawal of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) from the primary, the race has now been winnowed to a two-person contest between Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
What does all of this mean for the Democratic Party and, ultimately, for the Democrats’ prospects of beating President Trump in November?
First, Democrats should breathe a sigh of relief about one very important aspect of the primaries so far: Voter turnout has been historically high.
More voters turned out in South Carolina this year than in the 2008 primary when enthusiasm for the first African American candidate was meteoric. It speaks volumes about the enthusiasm and energy in the party and the country to do one thing — remove Trump from the White House in November.
Secondly, the number one objective for most Democrats remains nominating a candidate who will be able to beat Trump. The Sanders-Biden match-up will likely be hard fought, and it could turn ugly. But neither campaign can afford to alienate the other’s supporters, which they risk doing if either goes nastily negative.
In fact, both candidates have some serious outreach work to do.
For the Sanders campaign, that means trying to speak more inclusively to African American voters, without whom the senator cannot win either the nomination or the presidency.
Sanders would also do well to stop attacking Biden supporters or potential Biden supporters as “the establishment.” I know very few African American voters who would consider themselves part of the “establishment” or “Washington elite.”
If Sanders becomes the nominee, he also will need to convince nervous Democrats that his populist economic message is popular with most Americans, including those prone to believing Trump’s scare mongering refrain that Sanders is a socialist.
Biden must broaden his outreach and deliver effective and consistent messaging to Latinos, especially for the upcoming Latino voter-rich states like Arizona and Florida. Many Latino voters went with Sanders because his campaign invested in speaking to them. The Biden campaign needs to do the same.
If Biden becomes the nominee, he will need to use his talent for conveying empathy to acknowledge the pain of those who have been economically left behind and hurting from an economic resurgence that did not include them. These voters are scared by a possible four more years of a Trump administration but have not yet connected to Biden’s economic message.
Going into the next series of primaries, the terrain seems to be friendlier for the coalition that Biden has put together, which is somewhat similar to the one Obama put together in the 2008 campaign (without young voters).
If Biden wins Michigan on March 10 and Florida on March 17 (which we can assume he will do as Latinos in that state are unfriendly to Sanders’s sympathy for socialist totalitarian regimes), it will be difficult for Sanders to catch up.
If Sanders wins Michigan, it’ll strengthen his argument that he’s best positioned to beat Trump in the three key Midwest states where Trump won the election.
One thing that has become clear in this primary election cycle is that the voters will tell us what they think at the moment they pull the lever. Conventional wisdom is out the window as voters make their decisions depending on who they feel will be the best bet in November.
On Super Tuesday, many voters decided late. This may mean that many voters are not immovably tied to a candidate and are flexible enough to react to the fluid political scenarios that seem to be the only hallmark of this unpredictable primary season.
This is yet another good sign that that voters of America, while hopeful and idealistic, are also pragmatic enough to know that winning is the most important thing and that either of these candidates would make a far better commander-in-chief than the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Let’s remember that nothing less than full voter participation will be needed to bring our country back from the grips of corruption, destruction and deceit.
Maria Cardona is a longtime Democratic strategist and co-chair of the Democratic National Committee’s rules and bylaws committee for the party’s 2020 convention. She is a principal at Dewey Square Group, a Washington-based political consulting agency, and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.
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