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Eye On Candidates
July 29, 2015

Sanders Likely to Face Problems After Iowa, New Hampshire

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has surprised many by surging into second place in the Democratic nomination process, including drawing within 10 points of the frontrunner in some New Hampshire polls. Mollie Ball in The Atlantic reports on the surprise that is the Sanders campaign:

In the biggest surprise of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, this thoroughly implausible man, Bernie Sanders, is a sensation.

He is drawing enormous crowds—11,000 in Phoenix, 8,000 in Dallas, 2,500 in Council Bluffs, Iowa—the largest turnout of any candidate from any party in the first-to-vote primary state. He has raised $15 million in mostly small donations, to Hillary Clinton’s $45 million—and unlike her, he did it without holding a single fundraiser….

Sanders is drawing a steady quarter-to-a-third of the vote in Iowa and New Hampshire, pulling within 10 points of Clinton in some New Hampshire polls. Some Clinton aides have begun floating the notion that she could lose one or both of those early-voting states, though this seems like an attempt to lower expectations….

The possibility that Sanders could win Iowa and/or New Hampshire has been suggested in recent weeks, but the general sense has been that he would quickly stall after that, moving on to less-friendly political terrain and running up against what is presumed to be a Clinton juggernaut. David Byler, an elections analyst at, has a recent article addressing just this point:

Bernie Sanders Has a Super Tuesday Problem

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ quest for the Democratic presidential nomination has a problem…. That problem is Super Tuesday….

As other analysts have pointed out, the first two nominating contests – Iowa and New Hampshire – feel like home to Sanders. He hails from Vermont, one of the whitest and most liberal states in the country. The Democratic primary electorates in both of these states happen to be pretty liberal and white, giving the Vermonter an opening to do well in (or maybe even win) those primaries.  

But Sanders’ luck might run out quickly after those early contests.

Byler goes on to explain that after Iowa and New Hampshire, the electorate gets less white and less liberal, with the Super Tuesday states especially so.

But why is Super Tuesday so much worse for Sanders than other big days in the Democratic primary calendar? Larry Sabato, Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley presented an answer while making some similar arguments about Sanders and the primary calendar at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. They cited a number of factors, one of which was Clinton-friendly demographics….

Sabato, Kondik and Skelley point out that the Democratic Party in many of these Southern states is heavily African-American or Hispanic. Both of these constituencies are, for now, firmly in Clinton’s camp.

Byler isn’t quite ready to count Sanders out entirely though, writing that if Sanders can broaden his base of support he could mount a more competitive challenge to Clinton:

Sanders could theoretically increase the breadth of his appeal. If he somehow manages to broaden his appeal beyond white liberals, he might make a real run at the nomination. This seems unlikely – Sanders is quite liberal and thus might have trouble appealing to the more moderate portions of the party. Clinton managed to hold onto Hispanics in 2008 despite a strong challenge from then-Senator Barack Obama, so she is unlikely to lose their support to a weaker opponent like Sanders. Sanders recently began courting African-American voters – another key part of Clinton’s coalition. While Sanders could highlight his liberal policy positions and history with the civil rights movement, he faces an opponent who has deep, longstanding connections to the African-American community – and who didn’t recently botch a response to Black Lives Matter protestors.

It appears the Sanders campaign has taken this sort of observation to heart, sending the candidate to several Southern and Super Tuesday states to begin laying the groundwork for the post-Iowa and post-New Hampshire phases of the campaign. Arit John of Bloomberg Politics reports:

Before a Sunday rally in Kenner, Louisiana, a suburb about 12 miles outside of New Orleans, the candidate held a small house party at the home of Dr. Gilda Reed….

The house party was the smallest of four events on the senator’s schedule in a two day swing through the state, which attracted Sanders’s usual sheaf of favorable media coverage.  He made “a direct appeal to black voters” at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference gala in Baton Rouge on Saturday according to MSNBC, and “whipped up a thunderous crowd” of 4,500 in Kenner’s Pontchartrain Center according to the Times Picayune….

In August, Sanders will continue his unlikely Southern swing by campaigning in Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina, only the last of which is an early primary state….

A Sanders campaign consultant explains what Sanders is doing in Louisiana and the other Southern states:

According to Tad Devine, Sanders’s campaign advisor, there are three major reasons to campaign in every state: to introduce the candidate to different constituencies, to help build a national campaign infrastructure, and to get over what Devine called the “threshold of credibility” in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. 

“I’ve seen how important that vote is to people who participate in those events,” Devine said during a phone interview, referring to voters in the early state caucuses and primaries. “They take it very seriously and they won’t waste it on a candidate who they don’t think is a serious, credible, national candidate.”

The article mentions the current limits of Sanders’ appeal to non-whites, and includes Devine’s thoughts on the matter:

Many have observed that the racial composition of Sanders's constituency is his Achilles heel. A new Gallup poll showed that while 80 percent of non-white Democrats view Clinton favorably, only 25 percent view Sanders the same way—which may say more about his name recognition than actual support, but suggests the size of his challenge.... 

Devine maintains that he’s not yet worried about the shape of the Sanders [coalition]. “It’s not going to be like ‘rallies are for white people and the meetings are for black people.’ That’s not the way we see it,” Devine said. “As his appeal grows, and as he becomes better known in different areas of the country, I would expect that we’re gonna be able attract large crowds and very diverse crowds. Crowds that will look more like the floor of the Democratic convention, than the floor of the Republican convention.”

Sanders has managed to snag, for the moment at least, the mantle of primary challenger to the frontrunner. How well he can expand his appeal beyond white liberals will likely determine whether he can turn this moment into a credible campaign.