Can Bernie Sanders win the Democratic nomination?

July 14, 2015 12:00 pm

The first Democratic presidential primary is not until February 2016 but there is already speculation about who will be the Democratic nominee. Hillary Clinton seems the obvious choice. She has name recognition and is backed by Wall Street and other influential donors. However, Bernie Sanders, a little-known openly-socialist senator from Vermont, has been gaining traction as of late. Sanders, whose entry in the presidential race was initially seen as pushing Clinton further to the left, looks like he will be Hillary’s biggest contender in the primaries. Whether or not he can win is up for debate.

Sanders has a stellar record and there are very few opportunities for opponents to attack his character as he has remained true to his political beliefs and not been involved in any scandals, unlike Clinton. Furthermore, he is not running a negative campaign, which is extremely unique in American politics where campaign adverts often attack opponent politicians for everything from their policies to their personality. Sanders has consistently voted in favour of progressive legislation (such as voting for pro-choice legislation which received him a 0% rating for the National Right to Life Committee in 2006 showing his staunch pro-choice stance) and has never “flip-flopped” on his beliefs, something that cannot be said about Clinton who was previously against same-sex marriage until she saw the political benefits of supporting it. Additionally, Sanders has next to no scandals. The most scandalous thing opponents have on him is a 1972 fictional essay about a woman fantasising about rape, which when analysed is more of a feminist piece of literature than just a seedy rape story.

Compared to Sanders, Clinton has a barrage of scandals. The most notable is the Benghazi scandal which Republicans capitalised on. This scandal was about the September 11 attacks on the United States Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, which saw the death of four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens. Conservatives attacked Clinton as they said the Obama administration could have prevented this attack by acting on intelligence received before, suggesting it was a pre-planned attack. This scandal is more of an opportunity for Republicans to tarnish Clinton’s image than fellow Democrats but it casts a public image of Clinton being responsible for the deaths of four Americans.

Other scandals include the recent questioning of Clinton’s use of a personal email account on a non-government server when she was Secretary of State. By using a private email system, Clinton could have been hiding something. It also takes away her accountability. If there are no records of her correspondence with fellow State Department officials then there is no evidence of whether or not her actions are responsible. On a more personal note, Clinton’s personality is often described as “aloof.” She has not driven since 1996 and travels in a motorcade, appearing out of touch with the everyday American. The question people ask is how can somebody that far removed from everyday life really connect with voters?

Bernie Sanders

Going further back in history to find more negative press is easy. Before 1968, Clinton was a Republican and she worked as a volunteer on Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. Whilst Clinton was volunteering for Goldwater, who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Sanders was at the University of Chicago organising grassroots activism against segregation and other injustices.

Sanders’ activism in the 1960s for causes such as civil rights shows just how liberal he has been throughout his life. Questions over who would be Sanders’ running mate if he won the Democratic nomination have arose. A likely choice, that could secure his victory in the presidential election, would be Elizabeth Warren. Senator Warren is extremely popular and many were disappointed when she ruled out running for president. If Sanders put her on his ticket he could be formidable. However, this is arguably a waste of a ticket as both Sanders and Warren are elderly, northeast liberals and running mates usually offer diversity.

Despite all of these factors reflecting well on Sanders, there are many reasons that Clinton will most likely win the nomination. First and foremost, she has excellent name recognition, something Sanders does not yet have. She was First Lady of the United States and Secretary of State, meaning she has been prominent in the press for decades. Less-educated Democrats may vote for her in the primaries as they have heard more about her in the mainstream press than Sanders. Though you would hope someone who is a member of the party would educate themselves beyond the media. However, this name recognition is both a plus and a negative for Clinton. Its obvious advantage is that she is well-known, even outside of political circles, however, Americans dislike dynasties in politics and as her husband Bill Clinton has already served as president may be against voting for another Clinton.

Finally, money talks in politics so Clinton’s backing from Wall Street and other rich donors may override the public’s dislike of dynasties and her bad press. Additionally, aside from Sanders she has no other real rivals. Martin O’Malley, the former Governor of Maryland, is a good centrist choice, however, he is very unpopular in his home state of Maryland as seen by Maryland voting in a Republican instead of O’Malley’s hand-picked successor. He is also seen as being responsible for the unrest in Baltimore from his time as mayor. He may not win the Democratic nominee but he is in contention for being Clinton’s running mate. Other Democrat nominees such as Lincoln Chafee are absolutely no threat. Chafee’s key policy is bringing back the metric system and he also has little name recognition. The only Democrat left is the former Virginian senator Jim Webb who is arguably too conservative for the millennial-dominated Democrat Party who want a progressive like Sanders or at the very least a pseudo-progressive like Clinton.

Overall though, we are long way from February and anything can happen from now and then. Clinton remains the favourite but I would not discount Sanders.

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