Bernie Is Probably Going to Lose a Bunch of Upcoming Primaries: Here's His Political Survival Plan

After narrowly losing to Hillary Clinton in Nevada’s caucuses last weekend and facing an expected loss today in South Carolina, Bernie Sanders is looking to rebound in a handful of states on March 1, Super Tuesday, and in big midwest states in mid-March.


The Sanders campaign keeps raising money from supporters nationally and is looking past what is expected to be frustrating results and news coverage in the near future, as pre-election polls in South Carolina showed Clinton with nearly a two-to-one lead, and Clinton likely to win the southern states voting or caucusing on Super Tuesday.  

At this stage in the Democratic Party’s nominating process, Sanders and his team are focusing on a longer game: a handful of states where they think they can win and show that Clinton is not the inevitable nominee—despite being dismissed by mainstream pundits known for accurate updated forecasts such as Nate Silver’s FiveThirdEight.com.     

But this is a hard road. When Sanders was campaigning in black churches in South Carolina earlier this week, parishioners barely acknowledged him as he walked between their lunch tables. That was the case even though filmmaker Spike Lee made an ad urging the state’s African Americans to support Sanders, and others have tried to convince voters that standing with the Clintons is not in their interest.

Looking at next Tuesday's multi-state voting schedule, Sanders has concentrated his effort outside his home region, Vermont, where, of course, he will win, and in Massachusetts, where the race is very tight. As a Friday fundraising email from the Clinton campaign noted, “The Sanders campaign is outspending us on television by hundreds of thousands of dollars in Minnesota and Oklahoma, and they’re more than doubling our spending in Colorado.”

But as FiveThirtyEight.com’s forecasts note, the states where they say it’s more than 90 percent certain that Clinton will win on Tuesday are Arkansas, Georgia, Texas, Tennessee and Virginia. Michigan votes the following week, on March 8, followed by four big states on March 15: Florida, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio.

Sanders' public schedule this past week—and the states and issues emphasized by his campaign’s press releases—showed he was spending time in the states outside New England where he is doing best going into Super Tuesday, and then the upper midwest.

After campaigning in South Carolina early Wednesday, where he emphasized the need to take bold steps to reduce poverty, he flew to Kansas City, Missouri and held a big rally, and then onto Tusla, Oklahoma, where among other events he stopped at the Woody Guthrie museum to praise the working-class hero. “His songs spoke to the reality of working-class people and it is incredible how much his music lives on in this country and throughout the world,” Sanders said. “In fact, on a number of occasions we have used his iconic song, "This Land is Your Land," as part of our campaign.” 

Sanders then went north to Cleveland, Ohio, where he held a morning rally at Blake Wallace University and criticized Clinton for her support of international trade deals. Later in the day, Sanders went to Flint, Michigan, where the campaign issued a release recounting his opposition to 1994’s draconian crime bill, and he held a forum where he said Flint's poisoned water supply is a “canary in the coal mine” nationally for willful neglect by Republican lawmakers at the state and federal level. He ended the day in Chicago, a state where his campaign just opened 10 offices, at a rally in a state college where he talked about free tuition for higher education.

On Friday, Sanders went to Minnesota, where he emphasized his differences with Clinton on climate change and natural gas fracking, and his campaign put up ads in that state and Colorado making the same point.

This is a grueling schedule for any candidate and shows that Sanders is determined to do all he can to try to wrest the nomination from Clinton. But in some respects, it is not that different from the game plan of Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich, who is also pinning his hopes on a midwestern resurgence after Super Tuesday.    

As the press coverage lurches from day to day, week to week and state to state, the one question that will be heard again and again is, can Sanders' campaign last that long—through March?

Sanders is expecting that it can, and he has made a political career out of being underestimated. After all, as a Brooklyn teenager, he was one of New York City’s best high school milers. Today, he’s running a different long-distance race.

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