Political Experts Analyze a Biden-Sanders Race

Analysts and reporters discussed the results of the Democratic Super Tuesday primary races and caucuses and the remaining Democratic primaries.

SMPA Super Tuesday Panel
From left: Steve Scully, Karen Finney, Mercedes Schlapp and Robert Costa. Standing is Frank Sesno. (Maansi Sriviastava/GW Today)
March 09, 2020

By B.L. Wilson

It was a tumultuous two weeks in Democratic Party politics. Heading into Super Tuesday when the greatest number of states held Democratic presidential primaries, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) was ahead of other candidates in the delegate count. 

Vice President Joe Biden pulled ahead of Mr. Sanders after other Democratic primary contenders, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Peter Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg dropped out of the race, coalescing behind Mr. Biden.

“I’ve been covering politics in one form or the other pretty much all of my life, and I have never seen anything quite like what we’ve got going on this year,” said Frank Sesno, the director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University, in opening remarks for a panel discussion on the Democratic primaries. Titled “Super Tuesday: What Next,” the event was cosponsored by the GW College Democrats and College Republicans. 

Headlining the panel Thursday night at the GW Jack Morton Auditorium was SMPA Terker Distinguished Fellow Steve Scully, a senior executive producer, political editor and primary host for C-Span, who served as moderator; SMPA Terker Distinguished Fellow Karen Finney, a former campaign adviser to Stacy Abrams and Hillary Clinton; Mercedes Schlapp, M.A. ’97, a senior adviser to the Trump-Pence Campaign; and Robert Costa, a Washington Post national political reporter, NBC News political analyst and PBS “Washington Week” moderator.

“We are looking at a Biden–Sanders race” that pits “the fringe of the fringe of the left wing of American politics” against “a pillar of the Democratic Party,” said Mr. Costa.

“Political historians will likely go back to the week between the Nevada caucuses and Super Tuesday and wonder could Sanders have played his cards differently,” he said, “because he seemed to be pulling away from the rest of the pack and winning scores of Latino voters in ways he did not in 2016.”

Remarks on CBS’ “60 Minutes” in praise of Fidel Castro’s education and health programs, he said, led Mr. Sanders poll numbers to sink in Florida where there is a large Cuban American population

Ms. Schlapp said that her father left Cuba after being tortured and imprisoned for opposition to the Castro regime and moved to Miami where “you grew up in this Cuba culture,” she said. “We don’t believe in praising communist governments like Fidel Castro’s government that have taken away freedom from their own people.”

Ms. Kinney said in the primaries the Democratic Party is grappling with how the country functions with so much diversity “in the midst of a tectonic shift in terms of race and culture, women’s roles in society... and [the evolution] of the LGBTQ movement.”

She said it has been “painful to watch” sexism being played out in 2008 and 2016 with Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and once again this year with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who dropped out of the race.

In explaining the heavy black vote and turnout for Mr. Biden, Ms. Finney said, black voters are pragmatic. “They just want to win,” and are backing the candidate they see as having the best chance of defeating President Donald Trump.

“As a black person I have never been more terrified in my whole life than I have felt under the years of President Trump,” Ms. Finney said. “I don’t blame him for all of that, but I think he has brought forward a lot of things that are more frightening for me.”

She also noted that in focus groups, college-educated white women in South Carolina who voted for Mr. Trump said, “I wanted him to shake things up but not like this. He’s too mean, too nasty. This isn’t the tone that I like. I’m uncomfortable with the divisiveness.”

Ms. Schlapp blamed the drama on the media and Congress that have spent “so much time on their obsession with the Russian hoax” and impeachment. “They just hate [the president]…and want to do everything to remove him from office,” she said.

Looking forward, she expressed concerned about “the rise of socialism creeping into America,” which she said, more than half of voters polled in Texas associate with Democrats.

Mr. Costa noted that Vice President Mike Pence recently used the word “socialism” to describe Democrats, which is a word often associated with communism. “[Sanders] defines himself as a social Democrat,” he said, who would tax the wealthy and corporations to create a single payer health system and expand services.

Regardless of whether Mr.  Sanders or Mr. Biden wins the nomination, he said, “Those words matter and who defines those terms and how people react to those terms could determine who wins the White House.”

Mr.  Sanders, Mr. Costa said, will not disappear, whether he wins or loses. The same can be said for Ms. Warren, he said. “She is someone to watch. She has a real legacy. As she leaves, she too will not disappear,” he said.


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