Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders emerged long ago as the top alternative to Democratic frontrunner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but this past week demonstrates that he still has a great deal of work to do. The final Democratic debate of 2015 gives him an opportunity to end the year on a high note, something the struggling challenger needs to regain the momentum of the first few months of his campaign. As The Washington Post reports, Sanders remains far behind Clinton:
Hillary Clinton holds a 2-to-1 national lead over Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, enjoying a wide advantage on handling terrorism while trailing her rival more narrowly on honesty, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Clinton receives 59 percent of the support among Democratic-leaning registered voters, while 28 percent back Sanders. Clinton’s standing changed little from the 60 percent received a month ago, while the Vermont senator’s support dipped from high of 34 percent in November. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley stands at 5 percent, compared with 2 percent in October.
The article notes that Clinton held similar leads over then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2007, with closer races in Iowa and New Hampshire, but goes on to explain what the difference is this time around:
But parallels between 2008 and today may be limited. In 2008, after Obama won the Iowa caucuses, African Americans united behind him over Clinton, supporting him by an average of 82-to-15 percent across all primary contests where exit polls were conducted. So far this year, Sanders has struggled to make inroads among African American Democrats. He is trailing Clinton by 71-to-19 percent over the two most recent Post-ABC surveys.
Sanders’s support among white voters has helped make him competitive in those first two overwhelmingly white states, but his mixed support among African American and Hispanic voters, who make up a larger portion of the electorate in states with later contests, creates a substantial obstacle for him to overcome.
Trailing in the polls isn’t Sanders' only problem. His campaign has been suspended from accessing the Democratic National Committee’s voter files, as reported by The New York Times:
The Democratic National Committee has told the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont that it was suspending its access to its voter database after a software error enabled at least one of his staff members to review Hillary Clinton’s private campaign data.
The decision by the party committee is a major blow to Mr. Sanders’s campaign. The database includes information from voters across the nation and is used by campaigns to set strategy, especially in the early voting states….
The Sanders campaign said that it had fired a staff member who breached Mrs. Clinton’s data. But according to three people with direct knowledge of the breach, there were four user accounts associated with the Sanders campaign that ran searches while the security of Mrs. Clinton’s data was compromised.
The week wasn’t all bad for Sanders, as his campaign did pick up a couple of key endorsements by grassroots groups and also passed a major (at least for PR purposes) fundraising milestone. Here’s Politico’s report on Sanders’ good day yesterday:
Flagging in national polls, stuck behind Hillary Clinton in Iowa, struggling to grab headlines, and laboring under the perception that he refuses to talk about ISIS, the Vermont senator’s campaign was stuck in an unmistakable rut heading into Saturday’s Democratic debate.
Then came Thursday. First, the campaign announced it had collected more than 2 million contributions— a sign of Sanders' popularity among small donors — raising $3 million since Monday alone. Then Sanders formally picked up his biggest labor endorsement, smiling alongside the leadership of the Communications Workers of America in Washington. At noon, the biggest news yet: million-member liberal group Democracy For America — founded by close Clinton ally and surrogate Howard Dean — was throwing its support behind Sanders in its first-ever presidential endorsement….
The burst of life for the underdog’s campaign comes just as voters will tune back into the Democratic race with Saturday’s debate in New Hampshire, his team believes, which could help him in the organizing department. After he won 88 percent of the over 270,000 votes in the online membership poll of DFA — which had helped stoke the pro-Elizabeth Warren movement in early 2015 — the group’s executive director pledged to help Sanders with grass-roots support in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
The news is helpful for Sanders, but another article in Politico this morning may explain some of the reasons he continues to trail Clinton:
Bernie Sanders has spent the equivalent of three full weeks less than Hillary Clinton on the campaign and fundraising trails since late September, baffling progressive Democrats who are anxious to see a livelier presidential primary contest.
The Vermont senator has visited nine fewer states than Clinton, according to a POLITICO review of their travel logs covering the past three months. His schedule from Sept. 28 through Saturday night’s debate — 84 days in total — has included 34 days campaigning or fundraising outside Washington or his home state, including 10 in New Hampshire and nine in Iowa. Clinton’s meanwhile, has been made up of 55 days outside her New York home base, including an almost identical 10 days each in New Hampshire and Iowa.
By ditching the underdog’s playbook — which holds that if you’re not living in Des Moines, you should be living in Manchester — Sanders has left progressives across the earliest-voting states wondering where he’s been….
Sanders has spent just four days in Iowa over the past seven weeks, compared to seven for Clinton, not nearly enough in an early state where voters are conditioned to expect a significant investment of time and personal attention from insurgent candidates — not just an occasional series of events when they happen to be in the state, as Sanders has been doing. He drew roughly 5,000 people over 13 events in two days there this past weekend, for example, but it was his first stop in the state in a month.
Sanders has a full-time job, of course, while Clinton is able to devote her full energy and time to the race. He also recently had a hernia procedure done, taking him off the road for a bit. The article mentions this but also notes that it doesn’t seem to make much difference for some Iowa and New Hampshire voters. But perhaps more important is Sanders’ insistence on running a non-conventional campaign:
To neutral Democrats and Sanders skeptics alike, the imbalance between Clinton’s and Sanders’ frequent flier miles reflects the senator’s insistence on running on his own terms. He wants to run a very specific kind of campaign about a very specific set of issues that he’s been zeroed in on for decades, they say. And that laser focus has caused Sanders to ignore the traditional rules of presidential politicking, including blanketing the early states with visits.
Tomorrow night’s Democratic debate will be an opportunity for Sanders to regain the momentum he had during the summer. But as this week has demonstrated, things can go either way, and the danger for the Sanders campaign is that a poor showing in the debate will launch the narrative that he is stumbling at the time he needs to be seen as surging forward.