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Sanders Had to Get It Right

Bernie watches election returns
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By: Sean Sullivan – WashingtonPost.com – March 10, 2020
After sustaining damaging losses in the March 3 Super Tuesday contests, Sen. Bernie Sanders had one critical week to grow his support, change the story line and revitalize his campaign. Instead, he spent it largely in combat against the party he hopes to lead.

He accused former rivals of bowing to establishment pressure by endorsing Joe Biden. Some backers, including a top surrogate, made unsubstantiated claims that Biden was deteriorating mentally. And Sanders abruptly scrapped a speech his team said would be an important statement on racial justice.

“It was this scorched-earth approach,” said Markos Moulitsas, founder of the pioneering liberal website Daily Kos, who had supported Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “There was no opening for common ground.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a prominent Sanders supporter who has campaigned with him, took issue with Sanders backers who have been attacking Warren. Warren’s decision not to endorse Sanders after she exited the race, while criticizing Sanders for his allies’ online taunts, was a notable rebuke from an ideological ally.

“When things start falling short, I don’t think seeking out who to blame, instead of identifying how to adapt, is the smart thing to do,” Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview. “I think we have to identify, ‘Okay, how do we bring in people?’ It’s like when I ran in my primary, I didn’t win only with supporters of Senator Sanders. We built a broad coalition on the same principles.”

Some in the Sanders campaign have adopted a similar credo. Two top campaign officials spent hours working the phones late Saturday night to finalize a coveted new endorsement from civil rights icon Jesse Jackson. But on Tuesday night, it was clear that Sanders’s overarching approach was in trouble. Punctuating the week since Super Tuesday, Biden scored resounding wins in Michigan and three other states, moving closer to a daunting lead in delegates.

Sanders’s losses a week earlier had created a moment of reckoning for a campaign that was well-suited for a fractured field but ill-prepared for a swift consolidation by his opponents. Sanders campaign officials for months had talked up the power of their limited but passionate following in a crowded race where the opposition was split.

When the party rallied around Biden almost overnight, it was a gut punch and the campaign struggled to recover. Sanders allies were especially stunned by how fast Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, two prominent centrists, dropped out and endorsed Biden.

“You basically had the most unprecedented event happening in the history of presidential primaries,” said Sanders pollster Ben Tulchin. “Coming out of that unprecedented event, we had to retool and focus on the March 10 and March 17 states.”
The campaign threw all it had into winning Michigan, a delegate-rich state where Sanders landed his biggest upset four years ago against Hillary Clinton.

If Sanders could show he was stronger than Biden in a state that was key to President Trump’s victory, the campaign would be back, officials believed. If not, they recognized, Sanders would face the kind of serious trouble he found himself in Tuesday night.

When the campaign scrapped plans for Sanders to spend time in Mississippi in favor of Michigan, it signaled to many Democrats that he was effectively giving up on black voters in the South, who have strongly favored Biden.

At the same time, campaign officials drew up a plan for Sanders to step up his attacks on the former vice president, sending a memo to supporters even before Super Tuesday declaring a new phase in the fight and releasing a TV ad that attacked Biden by name for the first time.

As the former vice president racked up new endorsements each day, portraying himself as a unifying force and the increasingly inevitable nominee, Sanders, who associates say is less comfortable directly attacking Biden or anyone else than talking up his own record, opened up new fronts against his chief rival, seeking to undercut him on gay rights and abortion rights.

At a rally Monday in St. Louis, Sanders ticked off a litany of issues on which he said Biden had been wrong. “Joe Biden voted for the war in Iraq. I voted against the war in Iraq,” he said. “Joe Biden voted for the Wall Street bailout. I helped lead the effort against the Wall Street bailout. Joe voted for disastrous trade agreements. . . . I helped lead the effort against those terrible trade agreements.”

Then he took aim at one of Biden’s chief selling points — electability. “My point here is to ask you to think that in a general election, which candidate can generate the enthusiasm and the excitement?” Sanders said.

But while Sanders made this relatively straightforward case, some supporters took to social media to lob attacks that struck some Democrats as uglier, going after Biden’s cognitive abilities. Among them was Shaun King, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist who has introduced Sanders at some events.

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Source: In a week Sanders had to get right, he couldn’t grow support or change the story line – The Washington Post