Bernie Sanders Is Now a Serious Presidential Contender

The Donald Trump-obsessed media might have missed it, but in the past or week or so, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) became a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The main indication of this is the numbers from the latest round of polling. As I pointed out last week, the polls indicate Sanders could beat each of the Republican contenders in a head-to-head match. He would even trounce the most popular Republican, Donald Trump, by a margin of 59% to 38%.

What is even more telling is that some of Sanders’ margins of victory were similar to Hillary’s. For example, Hillary beat Trump 59% to 57%. That indicates that the American people at least seem to consider Sanders part of the mainstream or at least the Democratic mainstream.

The polls also show that Bernie has been gaining on Hillary in the polls. On July 28 Gallup reported that his favorable rating among likely Democratic primary voters had risen to 39%. It was even higher in specific groups 50% of white Democrats had a favorable rating of Sanders and so did 47% of Democratic men. Meanwhile Hillary’s popularity was slumping, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll published on August 3, found that 48% of Americans had a negative view of Hillary.

Sanders Has a Super PAC

A more interesting demonstration of Sanders’ electability was the formation of a Sanders Super PAC. A Super PAC, or political action committee, is an organization that spends money on behalf of a candidate but is not part of his or her campaign. The idea is to take advantage of a U.S. Supreme Court decision called Citizens United, which allows individuals to spend unlimited amounts of money on political speech.

A Super PAC is actually a sort of strawman that lets candidates do an end run around the campaign finance laws because wealthy supporters can give unlimited amounts of money to one. The major candidates, Hillary, Jeb Bush, etc., all have them. Well, guess what? Mr. Sanders now has a Super PAC.

A Los Angeles lawyer named Eric C. Jacobson has filed the paperwork necessary to create a PAC tentatively called “Billionaires for Bernie” with the Federal Election Commission, The Washington Post reported. Jacobson also said he is now looking for billionaires and presumably millionaires ready to get out their checkbooks for Bernie.

Sanders himself is adamantly opposed to Citizens United and has promised not to take Super PAC money. His office even refused to acknowledge its existence when The Post asked about it. Yet there’s an interesting loophole in the law that works to Bernie’s benefit here.

As long as it calls itself “unaffiliated” and does not use Sanders’ name, the Super PAC (if Jacobson calls his group something like Patriots for Progress) can do whatever it wants. That means it can produce unlimited numbers of attack ads directed against Hillary or ads questioning or supporting specific policies. It could also presumably produce ads telling people why they should vote for Bernie.

That means Bernie can enjoy all the benefits of a Super PAC without having to associate with it. It also means some sophisticated players think Bernie can win. More importantly, it could give Bernie access to the kind of big cash that serious candidates have without getting his hands dirty by touching it.

Observers Think Sanders Could Win

The formation of such a PAC indicates that there are some rich people out there who think Bernie could win. It’s easy to see why they think this.

Sanders may have drawn as many as 100,000 supporters to 3,100 to 3,300 online house parties on July 29. The events were basically coffee clutches in which the faithful gathered to hear Bernie’s latest sermon via streaming video. The events were highly successful even if the media tried to ignore them.

What’s truly interesting is that reporters who attended the events were struck by the similarities between Bernie’s efforts and Barrack Obama’s successful insurgent grassroots campaign that ended Hillary’s efforts in 2008. They attracted impressive groups in such diverse locations as an old Moose Lodge in Pittsburgh, where 350 supporters came together, and a loft in Brooklyn’s hipster mecca of Bushwick, where 70 young Bohemians showed up to drink Pabst Blue Ribbon and listen to their hero.

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Here’s what a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist wrote about the Moose Lodge gathering:

“Still, Bernie Sanders has roughly the same level of name recognition that Sen. Barack Obama had at this point in his underdog campaign against Mrs. Clinton,” Norman wrote. “Mr. Sanders is drawing more energetic and enthusiastic crowds than Mrs. Clinton—a sign that the party’s progressive and liberal base is hungry for something it isn’t getting from its presumptive front-runner.”

In Bushwick, The Daily Beast’s Lizzie Crocker described Sanders’ supporters as frothing at the mouth and the atmosphere at the party as “Berniemania.” She wrote:

“Much like Barack Obama’s young supporters in 2008, they are drunk on hope imagining what Sanders could do in the Oval Office.”

Bernie Sanders Political Strategist

Some seasoned political observers think that Sanders could win, which is what is attracting the money. One reason why they think he can win is that Bernie is employing a very effective political strategy.

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The strategy Sanders is employing is a rather clever one that Barrack Obama used in 2007 and 2008. It works like this:

First, leverage the power of social media to build a widespread grassroots movement. Demonstrate that you can actually attract support and win votes.

Second, use that movement to get media attention, mainstream support, and cash. Use the numbers on your side to force the big boys to pay attention and get onboard.

Third, use the grassroots movement to lay the groundwork for a nationwide campaign to win first the primary and then the general election; that is, create a nationwide political organization to take you to the White House.

It remains to see whether this will work or not; after all, Bernie Sanders is still far more radical than any major party presidential candidate we’ve seen in a long time. Despite his radicalism, Sanders seems to be a very sophisticated political operative who understands how to win the game even if he does not like it. He is a serious contender who is a dangerous political opponent, as Hillary is finding out.

Still, one has to wonder, is Sanders’ goal to win the election or simply drag the Democratic Party to the left? For the present, he seems to be succeeding at both.