As Sanders Surges, Moderate Dems Issue Warning To Iowans

Photo by Julie Fleming

Think twice about putting Sen. Bernie Sanders on the path to the Democratic nomination, a prominent Washington-based organization is urging Iowans ahead of the caucus.

Third Way, a think tank of moderate Democrats, will be distributing a memo on Sanders’ potential liabilities in a general election to hundreds of Iowa Democrats today, they told Starting Line. They’re also suggesting that Iowa caucus-goers “Google Bernie” ahead of Monday night, pointing to the number of already-public stories on Sanders’ background that President Donald Trump’s campaign could use.

“Because of media negligence and the strategic calculation of his rivals, you have not seen much real exploration of the politically toxic background and ideas of the current polling leader in Iowa and a national co-frontrunner,” writes Third Way President Jonathan Cowan. “Before you vote, we urge you to consider at least a few of the many things in Bernie Sanders’ long record in public life that make him the Trump team’s ‘ideal Democratic opponent’ … All you have to do is #GoogleBernie.”

The growing concern among Democrats like at Third Way comes in response to Sanders surging in early state and national polling at just the right time. Among four polls of the Iowa Caucus released over this weekend, Sanders led in three of them. Given that he may turn out many first-time caucus-goers that are difficult to poll, that puts him in a strong spot for Monday.

Turnout at his events here have also swelled in recent weeks, as Sanders brings his all-star crew of progressive leaders to the state to fill in for him during impeachment or boost events he’s at.

That all has led to many national Democrats taking the possibility of a Sanders nomination win seriously in a way they haven’t before. With less than a week to go until the first voting contest, however, there may be little time to slow that momentum.

Some of the issues Cowan believes that Sanders has not been fully vetted yet on include affiliations and statements from Sanders from the 1980s that could be problematic. That includes statements about being a “socialist,” backing the Socialist candidate for president in the early 1980s, and “campaigning for a Socialist Worker Party candidate.” They believe that Trump will link Sanders to any number of beliefs those parties held in those days, from “abolishing the military” to stances during the Iran hostage crisis.

Of course, Republicans will almost certainly label whoever is the Democratic nominee a “socialist,” just as they’ve tried to do with various Iowa Democrats running for office in recent elections. Third Way’s concern is that the label may stick much more easily with someone like Sanders who has a very clear history with the term.

They also point to some writings from Sanders several decades ago with various sexuality references they find “truly offensive.”

Another concern is how Medicare for All could play among voters. Throughout the past year, Third Way has used the 2018 elections as an example of how progressive candidates touting Medicare for All failed to flip Republican-held seats, while more moderate Democrats won suburban and blue-collar districts.

“Support for Sanders’ health plan has plummeted in the last year – it’s now 44% in favor, 53% opposed,” Cowan writes, pointing to one poll on the matter. “And that’s before Republicans run ads about its $34 trillion price tag, massive middle-class tax increases, and elimination of all private insurance … Imagine Iowa Democratic candidates having to run this year on an agenda that includes tens of trillions in new spending, more than doubling the size of the federal government.”

Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir provided a response to Starting Line, arguing that Democrats should be excited about the movement Sanders is creating.

“Let’s be clear: our growing support results from working-class Americans from diverse backgrounds demanding an agenda that transforms our country,” Shakir said. “All Democrats, even Wall Street-funded groups like Third Way, should be ecstatic to witness this movement attracting new supporters to strengthen the party and expand the electorate. To win seats up and down the ballot, we need to generate excitement and enthusiasm that drives a huge voter turnout among working people, not stifle it to protect special interests. Bernie Sanders has demonstrated over the course of this primary that this campaign is able to do that – and that’s why Donald Trump is nervous.”

As electability against Trump has risen to one of the top issues for caucus-goers, Sanders’ team has repeatedly pointed to their candidate’s advantage in bringing out new voters and generating excitement. They highlight certain polls that show Sanders doing the best in one-on-one matchups with Trump. And Sanders supporters have taken pride in the uptick in tweets from Trump about Sanders, believing it shows he’s worried about the candidate.

Most of all, though, they see Sanders’ ability to mobilize a new generation of young, diverse and working-class people to engage in politics and show up to vote. A recent Morning Consult poll showed Sanders doing the best among voters who were “not at all politically interested.” To defeat an outsider president like Trump, they believe, you need an outsider candidate like Sanders who can win back independents and turn out new voters.

Third Way also plans on following up their memo with tweets using the #GoogleBernie hashtag to drive more interest in reading up on Sanders’ possible liabilities.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 1/28/20

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