There’s no doubt about it. Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Wisconsin primary Tuesday proves the “political revolution” has emerged as a full-blown mainstream movement. Democratic Party leaders recognize it is ratcheting up the enthusiasm and energy needed to protect the White House from the right wing.
The question is: can unity be maintained while the Sanders and Hillary Clinton campaigns compete with each other for delegates in upcoming primaries and caucuses? Also, Sanders is now reaching out to superdelegates who had previously declared for Clinton.
Wisconsin was Sanders’ sixth victory in a row. Clinton has won 20 statewide contests and Sanders 16, including balloting around the world by Democrats Abroad.
Not bad for a campaign that started out with just three percent support in the polls.
Today, polls show that Sanders tops Clinton in beating Trump, Cruz or Kasich.
Furthermore, polls show Millennials of all races and ethnic groups overwhelmingly support Sanders, as do Latinos. Some 70 to 80 percent of Democrats rate Sanders as “trustworthy” while only 20 to 30 percent attribute this characteristic to Clinton.
In Wisconsin, Sanders won 71 of 72 counties, proving he can win in urban, suburban, and rural areas. He also won around 30 percent of the African-American vote.
Paul Begala, a top Democratic Party strategist and staunch Clinton supporter, said on CNN that the fact that Sanders did not attack Clinton in his Wisconsin victory speech is sure evidence he is eager to maintain unity within the Democratic Party.
Begala also said last Tuesday night he did not believe speculation that Clinton would launch personal attacks against Sanders.
Nevertheless, the very next day it appeared she did just that.
The Washington Post ran the headline: “Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president.”
Sanders responded by saying he abhors getting personal, but if pushed he would respond in kind. He said the American people might think Clinton is “not qualified” because she gets money from super PACs, supported the Iraqi War and has advocated for job-killing free trade agreements.
The acrimony was more or less put to rest when Clinton denied she had questioned Sanders’ qualifications and said that “If it’s between Bernie and Trump or Cruz, I’ll take Bernie any day.”
A much more serious rift could be in the making, however.
In speech after speech, Clinton has been accusing Sanders of not being a real Democrat.
Although during his 25 years in Congress Sanders has always caucused with Democratic legislators, Clinton reminds her audiences that he has been an Independent and is a democratic socialist.
“He’s a relatively new Democrat, and, in fact, I’m not even sure he is one,” she says. “I think he himself doesn’t consider himself to be a Democrat.”
Democratic Party leaders such as Paul Begala, Donna Brazile and David Axelrod have all said they welcome Sanders into the Democratic fold because as an erstwhile “outsider” he has been able to swell the ranks of the party with badly needed, enthusiastic newcomers.
Nevertheless, Clinton is questioning Sanders’ party loyalty. TV commentators and newspaper reporters say she’s doing this to dissuade her superdelegates from switching.
Sanders’ top advisor, Tad Devine, has been talking with superdelegates pledged to Clinton. Devine has been a Democratic Party insider for 30 years.
Seven hundred and twelve people who have a vote at the Democratic National Convention are superdelegates. That’s 15 percent. Mostly, they’re men and woman who have been elected to public office. They are not bound by the votes of their state’s primary or caucus, but many announce early who they “intend” to support. They’re allowed to change their mind at any time.
Clinton began her campaign with 362 superdelegates . She now has 483. Sanders began with eight and now has 31.
Despite their announcements of “intention,” Devine told the Associated Press that the Sanders campaign is betting superdelegates will not make their final choice until “after the voters have spoken … not before.”
In fact, in 2008, many superdelegates pledged to Hillary Clinton switched to Obama when he began winning primaries.
Holding on to superdelegates
This time around, however, Clinton is bound and determined not to lose any of her superdelegates.
She often reminds listeners that she and Bill have campaigned for many officials who are now superdelegates. Furthermore, she and Bill have donated many millions of dollars to the Democratic Party and have raised millions more.
Furthermore, Counterpunch online magazine reports that superdelegates from 33 states are beholden to Clinton for helping them raise money for their own campaigns for various offices. For example, the Hillary Victory Fund splits its proceeds between the Clinton presidential campaign and state Democratic organizations. It’s run jointly by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee itself.
On the other hand, Sanders has raised no money for the Democratic Party itself nor has he campaigned for many Democratic Party activists.
How could he? Up until a short while ago he was an Independent.
Tad Devine told CNN “[Clinton] is right [Bernie] is a new Democrat, he was elected as an Independent. … Bernie Sanders can pull together and unify the Democrats, and he has brought thousands of new voters to the party.”
Will the current competition between Clinton and Sanders harm the building of unity? Both have a long way to go before reaching 2,383, the number of delegates needed to secure the presidential nomination. Currently, Clinton has a combined delegate and superdelegate total of 1,749. Sanders has a combined total of 1,061.
Most observers are saying that unlike the Republican candidates, both Sanders and Clinton are committed to doing what’s best for the nation. They have disagreements, but beneath it all, the commentators say, they have goodwill toward each other.
For example, even while criticizing Sanders this week, Clinton said “Look, he’s raised a lot of important issues that the Democratic Party agrees with; income inequality first and foremost.”
Photo: Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton during the Univision, Washington Post Democratic presidential debate at Miami-Dade College, March 9, in Miami. Wilfredo Lee | AP