August 2, 2016

Swing State Democrats Are Choosing Socialism Over Clintonism

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It seems like only yesterday that establishment Democrats were hand-wringing over Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders’ increasing popularity with the grassroots base and the difficulties his extreme positions would cause for down-ballot candidates.

The New York Times reported in January:

“Hillary Clinton doesn’t have to explain socialism to suburban voters,” said Representative Steve Israel of New York, the former head of the campaign arm for House Democrats, whose hardest-fought races this year include districts outside Philadelphia, Washington and Chicago.

Apparently Rep. Israel underestimated just how deeply distrusted and unpopular Hillary Clinton would become by the time the general election rolled around. It turns out that down-ballot Democrats are just fine being linked to Sanders, thank you very much.

A new Politico report details half a dozen candidates in marquee senate races that are suddenly Feeling The Bern, despite endorsing Clinton in the primary:

One candidate who would happily accept Sanders’ support is Nevada Democratic hopeful Catherine Cortez Masto, the state’s former attorney general who is battling to keep the seat in Democratic hands following the retirement of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

The surest sign of how nervous Clinton’s rock-bottom approval rating is making Rust Belt Democrats is establishment insiders like Ohio’s Ted Strickland and Pennsylvania’s Katie McGinty rushing to embrace Sanders, who won neither of their states:

Stumping with Sanders is “not something we’ve talked about or planned yet, but she’d absolutely campaign with him,” said Sean Coit, a spokesman for Democrat Katie McGinty, who is running against GOP Sen. Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania.

In Ohio, ex-Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland has been savaging Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) – a former U.S. trade representative – over the issue. Strickland campaign spokesman David Bergstein said Sanders’ “message of fighting for working families and opposing unfair, job-killing trade deals certainly resonates in Ohio. We’d be happy to have him here.”

The anti-TPP message is so potent in Senate races this fall that even Ann Kirkpatrick, the Democratic Senate candidate in Republican-leaning Arizona, said she would stump alongside Sanders, whose brand of liberal politics is markedly different than her own moderate persona.

A more predictable Sanders ally is former Senator Russ Feingold, who could give him a run for his money when it comes to leftist ideology any day. He’s eagerly accepted Sanders’ fundraising help, despite rhetoric that emphasizes the weak national security record Feingold has sought to downplay:

Sanders blasted out a fundraising appeal on his expansive email list on Feingold’s behalf May 26, praising his ex-colleague for his stances on health care, the Patriot Act, the war in Iraq and campaign finance reform.

It’s especially noteworthy that three of the five senate candidates quoted – Cortez Masto, Kirkpatrick, and Feingold – all skipped Clinton’s convention, but would gladly appear on stage with Sanders.