Los Angeles (CNN)Suddenly on a collision course, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are sharpening their attacks and looking to build out their bases of support as a new phase of what could be a lengthy and bitter battle for the Democratic presidential nomination commences.
The former vice president followed his Super Tuesday triumph with a victory lap in Los Angeles on Wednesday, telling reporters his “positive, progressive” vision was “resonating all over the country,” as his campaign reminded reporters of Sanders’ role in a divisive 2016 primary.
At home in Burlington, meanwhile, the Vermont senator said he likes Biden and considers him a “very decent human being,” but that “Joe and I have a very different voting record” — on issues like Social Security and the Iraq war — that he planned to air out in the coming days and weeks. He also again described Biden’s campaign as being “heavily supported by the corporate establishment.”
“So what does it mean when you have a campaign which is funded very significantly by the wealthy and the powerful?” Sanders asked. “Does anyone seriously believe that a president backed by the corporate world is going to bring about the changes in this country that working families and the middle class and lower income people desperately need?”
Super Tuesday took what had for more than a year been an unwieldy and crowded field of candidates and effectively stripped it down to its final contestants, beginning what could be a months-long duel between Biden and Sanders. Their feisty messaging on Wednesday gave voters a taste of the political combat to come.
But both Biden and Sanders enter their one-on-one battle with work to do in winning over the voters who have so far shunned them — either in favor of the other or candidates no longer in the race.
Biden’s 10 wins out of 15 contests Tuesday came on a wave of momentum powered by his victory in South Carolina and a trio of endorsements from former primary rivals, but little else. He’d spent just $2.2 million on ads, less than 1% of Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s outlay, had nowhere near Sanders’ ground game, and had not even campaigned in six of the states he won.
Exit polls showed that half the voters who made up their minds in the last few days backed Biden, an indicator that the post-South Carolina exits of South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who announced their decisions to back Biden on Monday, along with former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, sent a wave of late support Biden’s way.
Nearly a week into March, Biden is still honing a message that at times drifts away from his core theme: restoring the “soul of the nation.” Meanwhile, his campaign is still scrambling to scale up to a national effort. Deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield acknowledged on a call with reporters Wednesday that staff changes are coming, but downplayed the likelihood of major directional shifts.
“There will certainly be additions to our campaign,” she said. “But we see it as addition, not subtraction.”
The questions and doubts now confronting Sanders are in many cases the inverse of those facing Biden. Sanders has a robust national operation and a clear, progressive populist message, but while there is diversity in his support, he has yet to expand the electorate to the extent he hoped — and promised. Young voters, exit polls show, have made up a much smaller portion of the electorate than Sanders had hoped, and in some key states new voters backed Biden over Sanders.
Sanders on Wednesday acknowledged his struggles, saying, “We have not done as well in bringing young people into the political process. It is not easy.”
Young voters, Latinos and liberals make up the core of his dedicated base, but suburbanites, especially from more affluent enclaves, and older African Americans, among the most potent forces in Democratic politics, are breaking decisively for Biden.
Sanders’ team has been largely successful in coalescing the progressive, grassroots working class groups they view as the heartbeat of their campaign. But they have run into a roadblock in their efforts to win over uncommitted, persuadable party leaders.
“The Sanders campaign needs to figure out how to build their coalition,” progressive strategist Rebecca Katz said of the hunt for new endorsements. “It’s obvious that that Joe Biden has a lot of folks coming home to him. Now the Bernie campaign has to think, who are the unli