- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2020

Sen. Bernard Sanders emerged from the 2016 election and his strong challenge to eventual nominee Hillary Clinton believing the Democratic Party was at a tipping point, ready for his brand of democratic socialism.

It’s increasingly apparent that he misread the voters.

After a couple of early wins, Mr. Sanders has fallen on tough times in the Democratic primary, watching former Vice President Joseph R. Biden rocket past him, both in terms of state wins and the chase for delegates.

Mr. Biden is poised for another big night Tuesday as voters in Arizona, Florida and Illinois vote in the Democratic primary — all states where Mr. Sanders trails badly in polling. Ohio is also slated to hold its primary, though the governor petitioned a court Monday for a postponement amid coronavirus fears.

Analysts said it’s not that primary voters are rejecting Mr. Sanders‘ ideas, but they have a different goal in mind right now than policies like Medicare for All.

“There is a great concern among Democrats about ensuring that Donald Trump is a one-term president and I think the Democratic establishment, and the media, has done a good job educating voters that if your goal is to beat Trump, Sanders is the candidate who is probably the least likely to help you achieve that goal,” said Mark P. Jones, political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

Even voters who might agree with Mr. Sanders on policy see him as a tougher candidate for the party to sell to the nation.

“That is certainly the case in Texas, where even many very progressive Democrats view Sanders as a nightmare for their broader goals of turning Texas purple, flipping the Texas House, having a seat at the redistricting table in 2021 and removing Donald Trump from The White House,” Mr. Jones said.

It’s apparently the case in places like Michigan, where Mr. Sanders won the 2016 primary by scoring big in rural areas and overcoming Mrs. Clinton’s lead in Detroit.

For liberal activists, that was proof that white working class voters were more excited about rallying behind the Sanders‘ revolution than they were in getting behind Mrs. Clinton’s more “moderate” vision.

Last week, though, Mr. Biden easily carried the state — including the rural areas.

“Bernie was making the fatal assumption that all of the 40 something percent of the vote that he got in the [2016] primary was favorable to his brand of progressivism,” said John Couvillon, a pollster. “I think the bigger question was how much of that was a visceral reaction to Hillary Clinton because what happened in Michigan didn’t just end in the primary. It continued on to the general election when Donald Trump upset Hillary Clinton there.”

Mr. Sanders 2020 rejection in Michigan came even though 57% of primary voters told exit polling they backed Mr. Sanders‘ marquee idea of a “Medicare for All” government-run health care system. That also was true in states from Mississippi to Maine, where strong majorities said they liked Medicare for All — but rejected Mr. Sanders in favor of Mr. Biden.

Nina Turner, national co-chair for the Sanders‘ campaign, described the trend as “the damnedest thing.”

“It really doesn’t make sense. The world is really upside down,” Ms. Turner said. “The senator worked so hard for what four years ago seemed like it was impossible — for his vision for this country to be in the mainstream. And now his vision for the country is mainstream, and people are voting the other way.”

“The forces of the status quo have been effective in portraying the two-term vice president as a pillar and really villainizing the senator,” she said.

Meanwhile, Neil Sroka, spokesman for the progressive PAC Democracy for America, agreed that Mr. Sanders‘ benefited from running against Mrs. Clinton, but disagreed with the notion that his camp learned the wrong lessons of 2016.

“No, we read it right,” Mr. Sroka said. “What has become clear is that, because of the media environment and because of elite opinion, a lot of voters have voted in this race as pundits, most have put punditry ahead of passion and ultimately made a decision essentially rooted in fear of re-electing Donald Trump more than in their preferred vision of the future.”

On the campaign trail, Mr. Sanders acknowledges he’s losing the electability debate, even as he says he’s won on the ideas.

“I cannot tell you how many people our campaign has spoken to who have said, ‘I like what your campaign stands for, I agree with what your campaign stands for, but I am going to vote for Joe Biden because I think Joe is the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump,’” Mr. Sanders said at a press conference in Vermont last week. “We have heard that statement all over the country.”

“Needless to say, I disagree with that assertion,” he said.

He says that to beat Mr. Trump, the Democratic nominee must tap into new voters, reaching record turnout. He predicted that would happen in the primaries — but to a large extent, it has not.

While Mr. Sanders has outperformed Mr. Biden among younger voters, they’ve not surged in turnout, according to exit polling. In just one state, Iowa, have they accounted for a larger share of the Democratic primary vote than they did in 2016.

Meanwhile, 11 of the states where exit polling was conducted have seen a spike in the percentage of older people that turned out. That has been good news for Mr. Biden, who has been far and away the top choice of greying voters.

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