After a raucous celebration of his fat-margin win in Vermont Tuesday evening, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ top campaign advisers held a more restrained breakfast meeting with reporters Wednesday. They tried to put the campaign’s spin on the Super Tuesday results and sought to convince observers that Sanders is in it to win it, and still can.
“Yes, we’re behind,” said Tad Devine, a senior strategist on the campaign. “She has a substantial advantage. We believe we can make that up between now and June. And we believe, and we have done some scenarios as late as this morning based on what we think we can do in upcoming states that will get us to a pledged delegate advantage by the time we finish the voting in June.”
Devine and Campaign Manager Jeff Weaver sat in front of a Bernie Sanders branded backdrop before dozens of reporters in the campaign’s Church Street office in Burlington. Their message was two-pronged:
First: Sanders is still a competitive candidate for the Democratic nomination, and he has what it takes to beat Donald Trump.
Second: A Sanders nomination is not going to be easy, and there are more losses to come; if he pulls it off, it will be because of well-targeted efforts in enough states to overcome Hillary Clinton’s advantage.
“This is not a rosy scenario,” Devine said Wednesday morning. “We don’t project winning every state that comes up.”
Devine said that’s the approach that led to Sanders’ four Super Tuesday victories – in Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Vermont. He said the campaign targeted those four states along with Massachusetts for Super Tuesday, dedicating efforts to winning those instead of spreading campaign cash – and Sanders’ time – too thin.
“We’re going to pick our spots,” he said. “And I think we did that yesterday. We picked five spots, it would have been nice if we drew an inside straight flush. We drew to a flush, we still think we have a winning hand in this game and we’re going to continue to play it for a while.”
Whatever the strategy is until the convention, Weaver and Devine also made their case for Sanders as the candidate that can beat Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, whose feisty campaign rhetoric has earned him a large and growing lead for the nomination.
“[Clinton] did beat [Trump] in the CNN poll, but Bernie beat him by a much bigger margin,” Devine said.
He alluded to controversies surrounding Clinton, such as the private home email server she used while serving as secretary of state and her handling of the Benghazi attacks in September 2012.
“Trump is going to run a vicious campaign,” Devine said. “I think we can all recognize his tactics. They’ve succeeded thus far in the Republican process.”
Devine said polling shows that Americans trust Sanders over Clinton, which he said could be key in a race against Donald Trump.
Devine said polls indicate that voters have a positive view Sanders. “His standing on attributes, critical attributes – honesty and integrity, for example, caring about people and his compassion for them – I think it gives him a huge advantage in dealing with the incoming against somebody like Trump where integrity is going to be the central issue against him in the election,” he said.
The campaign has some state-specific plans to hone its message, Weaver said.
With respect to Florida, for example, Weaver said “Bernie’s record on seniors issues, it’s outstanding. You know, obviously it is true we’ve had much more success connecting with younger voters than with older voters.”
Weaver said that once the campaign invests effort into a state, Sanders’ appeal grows among older voters, and Sanders is planning to aim high – in age groups, that is – in his messaging in Florida.
“We’re about to go to Florida and talk about Bernie’s record defending Social Security, his plan to expand Social Security benefits for seniors, his long-term support for veterans on health care and fighting the prescription drug companies," Weaver said. "So he has a strong record. We have to be more successful in delivering it, I think.”
In blue-collar Michigan, where the outsourcing of automotive manufacturing jobs has devastated some local economies, Weaver said he thinks Sanders’ firm stance against the Trans-Pacific Partnership will serve him well against Clinton, who hasn’t had a consistent opinion about the deal.
In many of the coming states, Sanders' campaign is working to engage minority voters - a group Sanders hasn't been forced to court in Vermont elections, and has consistently struggled with at the national level. Devine acknowledged the campaign's lack of support from black voters.
"We have to do better with African American voters between now and the end of the process, and Hillary Clinton has done really well," Devine said. "She's got a strong long term record - both she and the president - with African American voters. But we think we can do a lot better, and this is why: Because Bernie has an incredible personal story to tell about his activism in the civil rights movement, he has a phenomenal record of support in the African American community."
Sanders’ plan to get the Democratic nomination needs to show results, and fast, Devine said.
“We have to win a lot of places,” he said. “Beginning this weekend. And that’s what we intend to do.”