Bernie Sanders’ campaign is clear-eyed that beating President Trump is the biggest issue Democrats care about as they size up the 2020 field — and his team is doing everything they can to prove their boss is the man to do it.
Sanders’ campaign went to great lengths touting his strong position in both the primary and general election during a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon, with multiple top staff talking about Sanders’ electability in the general election and emphasizing his improved strength with key voting blocs that could decide the 2020 election.
Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir said the two issues Democrats care about are electability and which candidate would be able to fulfill their promises best as president — and argued that the Vermont senator is “unequivocally” the best-positioned to defeat Trump.
“Voters are very concerned about electability,” Sanders pollster Ben Tulchin said on the call. “All the data shows that Bernie is a very, very strong candidate when it comes to defeating trump
Tulchin backed that up by pointing to recent public polling showing Sanders has improved his standing with minority voters and women since the last primary, arguing that roughly half of his supporters in early polls are women and almost half are nonwhite.
He also argued that Sanders “has real strength in the upper Midwest and the blue wall states” that put Trump over the top in 2016, specifically citing Sanders’ Michigan primary win.
And Tulchin repeatedly pointed out that Sanders has polled better against Trump “than any other announced candidate.”
That last phrase is a big unacknowledged asterisk — former Vice President Joe Biden has polled better than Sanders in nearly every single head-to-head poll between the Democrats and Trump in national and swing-state surveys.
Early polls are also notoriously weak predictors of actual primary results — Hillary Clinton was light-years ahead of all other candidates at this point in in the 2016 campaign cycle, roughly a month before Sanders even jumped into the race. Sanders’ core support appears rock solid now and by many polling metrics he appears to have more room to grow than conventional wisdom suggests, but he also is likely to face a much tougher vetting process than he did last election. Evidence of that sprang up on the call, when a reporter pushed on when he’d release his tax returns (Sanders said it would happen “soon” weeks ago, and they’re still not out).
But the Sanders team’s comments made it clear that they know their candidate has a perception problem as to his electability that could hurt his chances in the primary — and that they’re going to do everything they can to address it.