Saturday, 22 February 2020

Democrats Pile on Bernie Sanders as Urgency Grows

Democrats Pile on Bernie Sanders as Urgency GrowsLAS VEGAS -- The day after a Democratic presidential debate brought out the candidates' outrage at Michael Bloomberg, the focus turned back toward Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who leads polls of Nevada, California and the nation.Former Vice President Joe Biden spent Thursday hammering Sanders for past positions that were friendly to the gun industry. Bloomberg warned that nominating Sanders would be "a fatal error." And former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, said he found it hard to imagine that Sanders could defeat President Donald Trump in a general election."It would be a very, very tough sell," Buttigieg told a crowd of students at a televised event at the University of Southern California. "I think it would be a tough sell with Mike Bloomberg, too. I'm saying we don't have to choose between these two options. I'm saying there is another way."The attacks came two days before Nevada's caucuses, the third contest of the Democratic presidential nominating calendar, and the day after a bitter debate that highlighted the dire situation that Biden and Buttigieg face. With Sanders favored to win in Nevada, they have limited time to try to stop his rise before the delegate-rich Super Tuesday contests on March 3 -- when Bloomberg and his $300 million advertising campaign await.Bloomberg was in one of those Super Tuesday states, Utah, on Thursday, telling voters in Salt Lake City that Sanders could not appeal to a broad enough array of people to win the White House."If we choose a candidate who appeals to a small base -- like Sen. Sanders -- it will be a fatal error," Bloomberg said. "We need Democrats and independents and Republicans to win."Both explicitly and obliquely, Biden and his campaign criticized Sanders' record on gun control Thursday, releasing a biting video of the Vermont senator saying in 2012, "I don't know that you hold a gun manufacturer responsible for what obviously a deranged person does."In a speech at a Las Vegas community center later in the day, Biden implicitly criticized that position again, and more overtly jabbed Sanders for his past opposition to the Brady bill, which required background checks for gun purchases.Yet after the event, a reporter asked whether Biden believed that Sanders had changed his views on guns."I do think he's changed his views," Biden allowed, "and I'm happy for that."By Thursday evening, however, he was prepared to hit Sanders' record more directly."It's not so much what you say you believe now," he said at a CNN town hall. "It's, what did you do and when did you do it? And the fact is, Bernie has had a very different record than me for a long time."Biden spelled it out: "He voted to exempt gun manufacturers from any liability. Zero. They can't be sued."While Sanders' rivals sought to chip away at his popularity, he laid low Thursday. He appeared at no public events and conducted interviews with three local TV stations in Las Vegas and Reno, his campaign said.In a brief exchange aired on CNN from his campaign hotel in Las Vegas, Sanders criticized the wealth of Bloomberg, who is worth more than $60 billion."Mr. Bloomberg himself is worth more, one person, than the bottom 125 million Americans," he said.The Sanders campaign was relieved Thursday that he had emerged from Wednesday's debate unscathed, a result that it attributed to his resilience and supporters' loyalty."Sen. Sanders' opponents have thrown everything they can at him since the launch of his campaign and they've failed to stop his campaign to build a political revolution because of his consistent, lifelong record of standing with the working class," said Mike Casca, a campaign spokesman.The Democratic candidates' urgency to contrast themselves with Sanders came as expectations grew among rival campaigns and political operatives that he was likely to win Nevada's caucuses Saturday.Perhaps in an acknowledgment that they are not likely to emerge on top, Biden, Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts all plan to be out of the state when the caucus results start to be announced Saturday afternoon."I think Nevada is unfathomable," said David Axelrod, the architect of Barack Obama's 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. "Second place is anybody's guess. And second place is meaningful by the unwritten measuring sticks that the punditocracy creates. Everybody is going to be watching who finishes second."More critical to the campaigns than Nevada are the 16 states and territories with contests on Super Tuesday. And reliable public polling data is available in just a few of those states.In Texas, a recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found Biden and Sanders in a dead heat. In Virginia, a Monmouth University poll released this week found Bloomberg joining Sanders and Biden in a statistical tie for first place. Sanders has led recent public polls of California, the biggest Super Tuesday prize on the map.Buttigieg exhibited unusual urgency Thursday, sending a fundraising appeal that for the first time issued a target he said the campaign must meet to stay afloat."We are the best shot at defeating Donald Trump," he wrote. "But the reality is, if we can't raise $13 million before Super Tuesday, we might never get that shot."Hours before that please-help-or-we're-sunk appeal, Buttigieg's campaign released an unsigned "state of the race" memo that warned Sanders was on the verge of building a "seemingly insurmountable delegate lead."Buttigieg, who has struggled for months to attract black and Latino voters, found himself facing a sometimes skeptical audience in Los Angeles.Valerie Gutierrez, a junior at the University of Southern California who attended Buttigieg's event, said she was undecided but leaning toward voting for him, despite fears about his limited appeal."The fact that he's not able to get the diverse minority group under his coalition is a bit worrisome for me, because I'm someone from a minority background," she said.Michael Sutter, a USC senior who said he had already voted early for Buttigieg, echoed the former mayor's warning that Sanders could not defeat Trump."Bernie is a little bit too far out there," he said. "He's going to scare people away."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company

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