Underestimating Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 3, 2019 — One of the major political campaign stories of the week is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) releasing his third quarter financial receipts, which exceeded $25.2 million for the previous 12-week period. The only other candidate to publicize his most recent financial information at this point in time is Mayor Pete Buttigieg who reports raising $19 million for the quarter.

While these numbers are high and continue to demonstrate strong, broad-based support, we still do not know the amounts that former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) will soon announce and are required to report by the Oct. 15 deadline.

Buttigieg makes the argument that this is his second consecutive outstanding quarter, which puts him at more than $51 million raised for the campaign. It appears Buttigieg has handled his money well, meaning he has adequate funding to compete in all of the early states. This is particularly true for Iowa, which hosts the first nominating on Feb. 3, and is of the utmost importance to his political survival in this national campaign.

But the Sanders campaign is our point of focus. Though his effort has been relatively quiet in the early going, the Sanders operation has concentrated upon and successfully secured their ground operation. This will prove a strong move once the actual voting begins.

In the 2016 campaign Sanders consistently under-polled. He was not predicted to do particularly well in Iowa, for example. Remember, in that contest Sanders fought Hillary Clinton to a virtual tie, forcing her to win a series of coin flips in selected precincts thus enabling her to declare a very slight statewide victory. For all intents and purposes, the Sanders performance created a virtual tie with Clinton and began to transform the contest into a one-on-one battle.

After Iowa, Sanders rolled into his New England backyard and the New Hampshire primary. Here we must recall that he garnered 60 percent of the vote against Hillary Clinton, a landslide victory that dashed her inevitable nominee strategy.

When the candidates advanced to Nevada, the race cemented as a two-person contest. Though Sanders lost the Sliver State caucus, controversy arose when the Independent senator’s campaign claimed that the Democratic National Committee had changed the rules to disallow some of the Sanders’ outlying precinct delegates from casting their ballots.

For the 2020 campaign, the Vermont senator is consistently polling in the top three nationally.

Below are the comparisons on his national standing from the most recent surveys, understanding that a candidate needs to record at least 15 percent to qualify for delegate apportionment:

Ipsos Sept. 26-30, 2019 1,136 RV*
Biden 29%
Sanders 16%
Warren 15%

*RV = Registered Voters

Morning Consult Sept. 23-29, 2019 16,274 LV*
Biden 32%
Warren 21%
Sanders 19%

*LV = Likely Voters

HarrisX Sept. 28-Oct. 1, 2019 766 LV*
Biden 35%
Warren 21%
Sanders 13%

*LV = Likely Voters

Performing well early in the actual vote would have the effect of perhaps creating further momentum for him in order to tread water in his weaker regions.

Now we again see him exceeding expectations, this time with his financial re-release. If he fares better than projected in polling and performance once we hit Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada next February, we could begin to see a whole new campaign trend develop.

But the caucuses and primaries may not be where the Sanders campaign excels to the greatest degree. Rather, that may be at the aforementioned organizational level. Since Sanders’ defeat in 2016 his operation has consistently worked through the official Democratic structure to elect sizable numbers of his supporters to party positions, which will eventually become the Democratic National Committee Super Delegate slots.

The Sanders campaign has a strategy to not only attempt to get their people elected into the state allotments of the 430 DNC Super Delegates but to also elect a large number of supporters to the delegate positions – at large, and from the various congressional districts – representing a multitude of states.

Electing delegates at the individual state conventions early next year in most places could be a major factor if the convention goes to more than one ballot, which could well be the case for the first time since 1952.

At some point in the convention process, whether it’s the second, third, or fourth ballot, the delegates will become free and able to vote for the candidate of their choice regardless of how the state voted in its primary or caucus. It’s at this point where the convention may drop into a chaotic fight that could produce an unexpected nominee, and where Sen. Sanders’ campaign strategy would pay its dividend.

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