Sanders has early lead over Warren in battle of the left – POLITICO
The Bernie Sanders vs. Elizabeth Warren primary is on.
The run-up to their presidential announcements sparked concern on the left that having both of them in the race would split the activist base and clear the way for a more moderate nominee. Now that they’re both in, the competition between the two promises to be one of the more intriguing subplots of the primary.
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Sanders starts out indisputably ahead. Bolstered by the grassroots army he amassed in 2016, the Vermont senator easily outraised Warren in the first 24 hours of their campaigns. He’s far ahead of her in the polls, too, trailing only former Vice President Joe Biden, who hasn’t announced whether he’ll run.
Sanders’ camp is treating Warren accordingly. He and his aides are avoiding any whiff of public criticism of Warren. They declined even to respond when her allies argued last week that Sanders entering the race would benefit her.
Warren’s team downplays the metrics surrounding their campaign launches, instead taking the long view. If Sanders falters after weeks or months as a front-runner — he is guaranteed to draw more scrutiny now than he did in 2016, given his strength from the outset — the Massachusetts senator wants to be seen as a more viable alternative to beat Donald Trump in a general election.
But the fact remains that the two occupy similar ideological space and will inevitably be competing for many of the same voters. For the time being, they seem intent on avoiding one another.
Warren has sought to head off comparisons with Sanders by creating her own space where she hopes she’ll catch fire. She’s gone out of her way to avoid the “socialism” tag — declaring she is “a capitalist to her bones” — putting her in a position to step in if Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, is rejected for being too far left. (On Thursday, he came under fire from Florida Democrats after declining to answer whether Venezuela’s socialist dictator, Nicolas Maduro, should step down.)
In stump speeches, Warren is not just embracing “Medicare for All” — one of Sanders’ 2016 rallying cries — but attempting to offer her own distinct platform with a menu of proposals such as providing free child care for millions of low-income children.
“One of the mistakes that a lot of presidential candidates make is they try to take the lessons from the last race and apply them to the current campaign,” said Doug Rubin, a Boston-based strategist and past Warren adviser. “I think what Elizabeth is doing, she’s already moving the debate aggressively forward with her tax on the wealthy and child care proposal. She’s not just trying to rerun the last race in a better way, she’s trying to run on new issues that really matter to people.”
Her allies are arguing that she actually benefits from Sanders being in the race, because the “center of gravity” will now move toward their similar economic populist and anti-Wall Street message. Eventually, they believe, voters will decide that she’s the candidate best able to defeat Trump, and offering the best fit for an era in which more record-breaking numbers of women are running for and winning elected office.
“Both are very good on the issues that are popular to voters, and both would conceivably beat Trump,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the pro-Warren Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “We feel Elizabeth Warren is the most electable of the Democratic primary field because she’s a progressive woman who voters see as instinctively fighting for working people and willing to challenge powerful interests.”
Asked about Green’s theory, Sanders’ team didn’t bite.
“Sen. Warren has been a fighter for working people,” said spokeswoman Arianna Jones, “and Bernie considers her a close friend. We look forward to a positive campaign of ideas.”
The Sanders campaign is making a concerted effort to hire women and minorities, unveiling a diverse group of top hires and campaign co-chairs this week. His 2016 campaign was criticized for being too white and male, and for allowing alleged sexual harassment to fester.
In an interview with The Young Turks on Tuesday, Sanders suggested that he would seek a woman younger than him as a running mate.
“I think we would look for somebody who is maybe not of the same gender that I am, and maybe somebody might be a couple of years younger than me,” he said, “and somebody who can take the progressive banner as vice president and carry it all over this country.”
But Sanders’ entry is already creating a strategic challenge for Warren’s campaign on several fronts. Chief among them is small-dollar fundraising. Beyond the sheer competition for small dollars, each time Sanders reports a blockbuster haul it will be compared with Warren’s numbers.
Activists and friendly media outlets already are contrasting the two candidates’ handling of race and gender issues, their policies and their theory of change in government. After his launch, Indivisible’s national political director praised Sanders on Twitter as having an “exciting vision” on Medicare for All and free college tuition, but added that she “laments his racially agnostic language” while discussing economic inequality.
An article in Jacobin, a socialist magazine, described them both as anti-establishment and anti-Wall Street, but said Sanders “prefers to use the government’s power to tax and spend directly to meet America’s needs — or replace the market altogether,” while Warren “wants to empower regulators and rejigger markets to shape ‘pre-distribution’ income, before taxes.”
Had Sanders opted not to run, Warren would have been well-positioned to win over many of his supporters. According to the most recent Morning Consult online survey, 26 percent of Sanders’ supporters said Biden was their second choice and 16 percent said Warren was their second choice.
Sanders’ entry obviously dampens those prospects for Warren.
“Had Bernie decided not to run, I think 90 percent of his people would have flooded to Elizabeth Warren. There’s almost no question in my mind,” said Jonathan Tasini, who served as a national surrogate for Sanders in 2016 and who authored “The Essential Bernie Sanders and His Vision for America.” “If either Bernie or Elizabeth Warren end up being the nominee, the other part of that family will be satisfied. I can’t think of people who are Elizabeth Warren supporters who would be upset or vice versa.”
In 2016, Sanders absorbed a fairly robust movement of progressives who tried to draft Warren to run against Hillary Clinton. The “Ready for Warren” campaign grew to 60,000 people nationwide before turning into a larger “Run Warren Run” initiative.
When Warren declined, many of those people fled to Sanders.
Charles Lenchner, founder of Ready for Warren and then one of the founders of an early drafting effort for Sanders, said dynamics have changed since he attempted to enlist Warren in 2016.
“I think her influence in the primary is a good one,” Lenchner said. However: “Warren surrounds herself with consultants who are lifers in Washington. … She does not surround herself with people who are activists of movements who get arrested and all of that stuff.”
“I think she is not, at this time, doing the kinds of things that will create a relationship between a grass-roots movement and her primary campaign,” he added.
The New Hampshire primary could prove decisive for each of them, given that they hail from neighboring states.
Sanders walloped Hillary Clinton there in 2016. But Warren has worked to steadily make inroads: pumping money to help New Hampshire Democrats win 2018 races, hiring key operatives early and already hosting four campaign events there since January. On Friday, she’ll keynote a major fundraiser for the state’s Democratic Party.
Sanders, though, has the polling edge right now. A University of Massachusetts Amherst survey released this week found that 20 percent of likely Democratic voters said they would back him if the primary contest were held today, while 9 percent said they would support Warren. Biden was in the lead with 28 percent.