Coronavirus kills Sanders’ presidential campaign - GulfToday

Coronavirus kills Sanders’ presidential campaign


Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks to reporters about coronavirus on Thursday in Burlington. Associated Press

Andrew Feinberg, The Independent

By the end of the day on Wednesday, March 18, the illness dubbed Covid-2019 by the World Health Organisation had killed at least 100 Americans.

The effort to contain the coronavirus which causes it had caused local governments across the entire San Francisco Bay Area to implement a “shelter-in-place” order to mandate that area residents remain at home except for certain essential tasks.

Other large cities have followed suit, with millions of Americans either forced to work from home or laid off as restaurants, shops, and other public accommodations shuttered for a still-indeterminate amount of time — and the stock markets were well on their way to eliminating all of the gains made since Donald Trump’s presidency began on January 20, 2017.

While this new virus has killed and will kill countless Americans and others around the world, it can also add one more item to its butcher’s bill: Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

Although state officials in Georgia and Ohio postponed their scheduled primary elections out of an abundance of caution in the face of an illness that can be easily spread by proximity and person-to-person contact, voters in Arizona, Florida, and Illinois opened their polling stations as scheduled Tuesday morning.

And by the time polls closed Tuesday night, the result was clear — it was a good night for former Vice President Joe Biden, but not a good one for Sanders.

In Illinois, where Sanders had come within two percentage points of besting Hillary Clinton four years ago, Biden won easily by earning votes from 59.1 per cent of voters, to the 36.1 per cent who voted for Sanders.

Biden did even better in Florida, where Sanders’ defence of Fidel Castro’s dictatorship cost him dearly with voters. The former vice president garnered a whopping 61.9 per cent of the vote to Sanders’ 22.8 per cent, winning every single county in President Trump’s recently designated home state. And in Arizona, the result was the same, with Biden coming out ahead of Sanders, 43.6 per cent to 31.7 per cent.

The trio of victories gives Biden a near-insurmountable 277-delegate lead in the race for the 1991 delegates he’ll need to clinch the Democrats’ nomination, with 1151 to Sanders’ 874.

And while the Vermont Senator’s campaign pulled its prodigious Facebook fundraising operation on Wednesday, he did not give any indication that he would take any action to formally suspend his campaign anytime soon.

Some observers have postulated in recent weeks that the comeback mounted by Biden — who’d been left for dead until just before the South Carolina primary — is without precedent in modern American electoral history, but for veterans of the 2004 presidential election between incumbent George W Bush and then-Senator John Kerry, the landscape looks rather familiar.

Kerry, then the long-serving junior Senator from Massachusetts, had been facing an insurgent challenge from another iconoclastic Vermonter, Governor Howard Dean. Like Sanders, Dean used his 2004 campaign to stress the importance of establishing a universal healthcare system, railed against the then-ongoing Iraq war, and championed online fundraising as a way to fight back against established interests in the Democratic Party.

But while Dean spent a considerable amount of time as the frontrunner before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus, he ended up third behind both Kerry and Kerry’s future running-mate, North Carolina Senator John Edwards.

Exit polling taken during Tuesday’s primaries showed that voters trust Biden to handle a crisis like the current coronavirus pandemic by wide margins, with voters trusting Biden over Sanders by a margin of 6 to 4 in Illinois and Arizona, and 7 to 3 in Florida.

And although one can draw parallels between the current pandemic and the post-9/11 terrorism fears, Dean said the common thread between the 2004 race and the results of this year’s contest is voters’ desire to avoid risk. “I was a risk because I could be very frank and blunt and demonstrative, and so forth, and the voters decided that Kerry was the better choice to beat Bush,” said Dean, who later led Democrats to take back Congress as the chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Dean said he sees a somewhat similar effect in voters choice between Biden and Sanders. “I don’t think it’s they don’t trust Sanders at all. I think they really like Sanders, but I think the virus actually has changed things dramatically and made a group of Democrats who were absolutely furious and disgusted with Trump and wanting real change to take in the calculation that they want as little risk as possible because they’re tired of this,” he said. “I still think it works in (Democrats’) favour in the end, but I think what they have decided is they want the safer choice so they can get off this merry-go-round.”

“It’s not a matter of not trusting Bernie. It’s a matter of going for the safe, predictable choice, and… saying, ‘Well, maybe I want revolution, but maybe I don’t want to quite as fast as I thought I did, because I’m really scared,’” he added.

Robert Shrum, a veteran Democratic strategist who served as a senior adviser to the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign, said the coronavirus pandemic upended Sanders’ plans to make the Democratic primary into a referendum on Medicare for All in the same way that a tape made by Osama bin Laden which emerged shortly before the 2004 general election foiled Kerry’s plans to run on issues other than national security.

“At the very end of the Kerry campaign, when we had finally succeeded in moving the issues toward questions like healthcare, education and the environment, you suddenly had the Osama bin Laden tape,” he recalled. “And almost simultaneously, an independent Republican group was armed with an ad in Ohio called ‘Ashley,’ which was about a girl whose mother was killed in the World Trade Center, and who had met Bush. So it pulled the campaign at the very end, all the way back to being about terrorism, and obviously that advantaged Bush.”

Although Shrum noted that one difference between the 2004 race and this year’s is that Bush — unlike Biden or Sanders — had centered his campaign around the idea that he was the best “protector of the nation” rather than an issue-based campaign, he said that voters still seem to have the sense that Biden is best-prepared as a “protector” because of his eight years’ service as vice president under Barack Obama.

And while he did not think Sanders’ demeanour has been a major factor in his loss, he noted that Sanders’ public remarks since the start of the coronavirus pandemic have focused on the necessity of universal healthcare, while Biden has been more presidential.

But one of Shrum’s Republican counterparts during the 2004 race, ex-Bush media adviser Mark McKinnon, said the parallels between 2004 and now apply far more to Biden’s eventual race against Trump than they do to his primary fight against Sanders.

“The challenge for Biden has been all along that he’s part of the establishment. He was always seen as kind of a safe choice, not a risky choice, not a bold choice, but a safe one,” said McKinnon, now an executive producer and co-host of Showtime’s The Circus.

“In a change environment, that’s problematic, and that’s why Bernie and the progressives got as much traction as they did. There’s a real hunger for change,” he continued. “But the minute the virus hit, I think that the switch flipped, and people just saw the race in a completely different light and suddenly Joe Biden, who was that safe choice looks a whole lot better than a risky choice.”

McKinnon added that the coronavirus pandemic has also upended the general election in a way that gives Biden the advantage as a “status quo candidate,” a rarity for a challenger to an incumbent president.

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