Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt. is learning he’ll need to run a very different race than he did against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE in 2016 to win the Democratic presidential nomination.
Just as in 2016, Sanders appears to face an establishment behemoth in former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE, the front-runner in the race who served eight years as the top lieutenant to a popular Democratic president.
But there are also stark differences between Clinton and Biden, and the surrounding races.
In the last cycle, Sanders was the underdog to Clinton and an unknown running after eight years of a Democratic presidency.
This time, he’s a relative favorite in the race along with Biden thanks to his fundraising prowess and national name recognition. And he’s running for the favor of a Democratic electorate desperate to make Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE a one-term president.
Clinton and Sanders were the big fish swimming with relative minnows in 2016. In 2020, Sanders must deal with a field of 22 candidates, including several U.S. senators and former governors.
A few of the candidates, most notably liberal powerhouse Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.), will be competing with Sanders for the progressive lane — where he pretty much ran by himself in 2016.
Sanders in 2016 was able to hit Clinton over her centrist record, a strategy he’s also employed against Biden.
But there are questions about whether this will work in 2020 with this large of a field, and against Biden.
“There’s real risk here for Sanders,” said Democratic strategist David Wade, who worked for Biden during former President Obama’s 2008 campaign but is not affiliated with a campaign in this cycle.
He argued that Sanders “could build himself up by tearing down his opponent” in 2016.
“Today he’s in a crowded Democratic field with a restive electorate very focused on beating Trump,” Wade said.
Philippe Reines, a longtime senior adviser to Clinton who saw the Sanders hits close-up in 2016, also said the big field could be a problem for Sanders.
“It’s not a two-person race where an attack by one on the other would either work and switch a voter or not work,” Reines said. “In a multi-candidate field, the attack might work, the target might lose a vote — but the attacker might not gain that vote.”
With more than 20 opponents, Reines added, “the attack could be successful but neither the attacker nor the attacked benefit. Now, it might be enough to just bring down the target’s number without bringing your own up.”
Wade compared the current cycle to the 2004 Democratic primary battle, when former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Rep. Richard Gephardt’s (Mo.) scorched-earth attacks on one another ended up helping other candidates in the race.
Sources close to Sanders say he won’t mount direct attacks on his rivals but that he will draw clear distinctions between himself and his opponents.
“In terms of policy contrast, there are huge differences and he’ll run on that,” said Larry Cohen, the chairman of Our Revolution. “Ninety percent of what he’ll run on is a vision of what the country can be and the other 10 percent will be on contrasting visions, particularly with Biden.”
Sanders did just that in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” over the weekend.
“Joe voted for the war in Iraq, I led the effort against it,” Sanders said in the interview. “Joe voted for [the North American Free Trade Agreement] and permanent trade relations, trade agreements with China. I led the effort against that. Joe voted for the deregulation of Wall Street, I voted against that.”
Allies say by drawing contrasts, he’s letting his work speak for itself without launching into attacks aimed at tearing down his opponents, specifically Biden.
“All Bernie has to do is run on his record, talk about policy, and expand his base a little,” one ally said. “He doesn’t need to unleash broadsides against his opponents. He’s leading the pack when it comes to progressives. He now needs to make sure people understand the dividing line between himself and someone like Biden.”
Cohen said in many ways the race is easier for Sanders this time around because he doesn’t have to build his movement from scratch. His campaign funds, resources and supporters are already in place, putting him at an advantage even with the progressives that share his lane.
“Last time, the strategy was to get the issues out there and use the campaign as a vehicle to do that,” Cohen said. “This time, the strategy is to win.”
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