Foun­da­tion unites Dems: Fear of San­ders

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Steve Peo­ples and Alan Fram

Demo­cratic law­mak­ers, union of­fi­cials, state lead­ers and party strate­gists agree San­ders is a risky nom­i­nee.

LAS VE­GAS >> A grow­ing num­ber of Demo­cratic law­mak­ers, union of­fi­cials, state lead­ers and party strate­gists agree that Bernie San­ders is a risky nom­i­nee to put up against Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. There’s less agree­ment about whether — and how — to stop him.

Crit­ics of the Ver­mont sen­a­tor, who has long iden­ti­fied as a demo­cratic so­cial­ist, are fur­ther than they’ve ever been from uni­fy­ing be­hind a mod­er­ate al­ter­na­tive. None of the vi­able cen­trists in the race is ea­ger to exit the cam­paign to clear a path for a can­di­date to be­come a clear counter to San­ders. And San­ders is look­ing to Satur­day’s Ne­vada cau­cuses to post an­other win that would fur­ther his sta­tus as an early front-run­ner.

With fear and frus­tra­tion ris­ing in the party’s es­tab­lish­ment wing, a high­stakes math prob­lem is emerg­ing. It could be im­pos­si­ble to blunt San­ders as long as a trio of mod­er­ate can­di­dates — for­mer South Bend, In­di­ana, Mayor Pete But­tigieg, for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and Min­nesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — stay in the race. And with for­mer New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg pump­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars into the swath of states that vote on Su­per Tues­day, March 3, the ef­fort to stop San­ders will be­come even more chal­leng­ing when the cam­paign goes na­tional next month.

“You see this tremen­dous angst in the party — ‘What are we go­ing to do?’” said Terry McAuliffe, a for­mer Vir­ginia gov­er­nor who was also chair­man of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee. “We need to unify as fast as we can.”

The dy­namic is com­pli­cated be­cause each of the ma­jor mod­er­ate can­di­dates has glar­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties.

Bi­den be­gan the cam­paign as a front-run­ner, but the aura around his op­er­a­tion took a hit af­ter a fourth-place fin­ish in Iowa gave way to a fifth-place fin­ish in New Hamp­shire. But­tigieg has proved to be the most ef­fec­tive cen­trist in raising money from the party’s tra­di­tional high­dol­lar donors, which puts him in a strong po­si­tion to com­pete in an ex­pen­sive na­tional con­test. But the 38-year-old faces linger ques­tions about his ex­pe­ri­ence and his abil­ity to win sup­port from black and Latino vot­ers, a chal­lenge that could come into greater fo­cus if But­tigieg loses badly in Ne­vada and South Carolina.

Kloubchar is newly em­bold­ened af­ter a third­place fin­ish in New Hamp­shire, but she too has lit­tle sup­port among mi­nor­ity vot­ers and has largely run a bare-bones cam­paign op­er­a­tion.

“When you have three or four can­di­dates in that same lane, math be­comes a prob­lem,” said Harold Schait­berger, gen­eral pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Fire­fight­ers and a Bi­den loy­al­ist, who ad­mits be­ing “dis­ap­pointed” by Bi­den’s bad per­for­mances and San­ders’ rise.

Though the open­ing con­tests of the pri­mary have only be­gun, time may quickly run out for a mod­er­ate al­ter­na­tive to emerge.

By the end of Su­per Tues­day, more than one third of all del­e­gates will be awarded. Should San­ders build a sig­nif­i­cant del­e­gate lead — and his strength in Cal­i­for­nia alone makes that pos­si­ble — it would be very dif­fi­cult for any other can­di­date to catch him in the slew of state-by-state elec­tions that fol­low based on the way del­e­gates are ap­por­tioned.

“We have a lot of good can­di­dates, but in gen­eral we’re in­cred­i­bly frus­trated that the field hasn’t win­nowed,” said Robert Wolf, a ma­jor fundraiser for Barack Obama, who said he has do­nated money this cy­cle to more than a dozen Democrats. San­ders is not one of them.

The sit­u­a­tion is sim­i­lar to the Repub­li­can pri­mary in 2016, when sev­eral anti-Trump al­ter­na­tives di­vided their party’s mod­er­ate vote and al­lowed Trump to be­come the nom­i­nee de­spite fail­ing to win a ma­jor­ity of the vote in early pri­mary con­tests.

There is no sig­nif­i­cant move­ment in the works to stop San­ders. And so long as there are a half-dozen vi­able can­di­dates in the race, it may not mat­ter if there were.

San­ders’ team ex­pects his Demo­cratic crit­ics and their al­lies to in­ten­sify their at­tacks in the com­ing weeks, although they sug­gest time may be on their side with Su­per Tues­day just two weeks away. If San­ders comes out of Su­per Tues­day with a 100-del­e­gate lead, which is pos­si­ble based on his pop­u­lar­ity in Cal­i­for­nia alone, they be­lieve it would be vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for any­one to catch up be­fore the party’s na­tional con­ven­tion in July.

San­ders was show­ing new signs of con­fi­dence as he cam­paigned over the week­end in Ne­vada ahead of the state’s cau­cuses next Satur­day. Ral­ly­ing sup­port­ers in Carson City on Sun­day, he de­clared he could win Ne­vada, then Cal­i­for­nia and the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion and high­lighted at­tempts from his ri­vals in both par­ties to stop him.

“We have a lot of good can­di­dates, but in gen­eral we’re in­cred­i­bly frus­trated that the field hasn’t win­nowed.”

— Robert Wolf, fundraiser

RICH PE­DRON­CELLI — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Sen. Bernie San­ders I-Vt., smiles dur­ing his cam­paign event in Carson City, Nev., on Sun­day.

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