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Democratic Front-Runner Bernie Sanders Doesn't Have A Lock On The Party


Bernie Sanders won the Nevada caucuses on Saturday. He won key demographics - men and women, voters 64 and younger. And he won big among Latino voters. But the Democratic Party establishment isn't unifying behind him yet. Here's South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn talking yesterday on ABC's "This Week."


JIM CLYBURN: I do believe it'll be an extra burden for us to have to carry. This is South Carolina, and South Carolinians are pretty leery about that title socialist.

KING: Jamal Simmons is on the line from Charleston, S.C. He's a Democratic strategist. Good morning, Jamal.

JAMAL SIMMONS: Good morning, Rachel and Noel.

KING: OK. So after Iowa and New Hampshire and Nevada, why is the Democratic Party still uncertain about Bernie Sanders?

SIMMONS: Well, Bernie Sanders seems to be pretty uncertain about the Democratic Party. So it's not a one-way street. You know, he gave - he's been giving remarks and talking about not just beating the Republicans but beating the Democratic establishment. So there's some question about this insurgency. Remember when Barack Obama ran in 2008, he was an insurgent candidate, but he was an insurgent candidate that tried to speak to America's dissatisfaction with hope; Bernie Sanders seems to be speaking through anger. Obama also reached out to the Democratic establishment and asked them to join him in his cause, join him in his campaign. Bernie Sanders has been threatening sort of in-the-establishment's rule over politics.

So that discomfort is going both ways. At some point, Bernie Sanders and his campaign has to decide, are they more interested in beating Donald Trump or more interested in beating Democratic regulars? And I don't know if he can do both.

KING: You said that Bernie Sanders is reaching out to people through anger. People keep voting for Bernie Sanders. Does that mean the...

SIMMONS: People are angry (laughter).

KING: ...The electorate is just angry? Yeah. No, I mean, that seems like a really serious point here, right?

SIMMONS: Oh, yeah. I mean, the dissatisfaction that many people feel about stagnant wage growth, about uneven unemployment or even if they've lost their - if they've got a job - you know, we just thought we saw a poll from Third Way and the Joint Center just about a couple weeks ago that said among African Americans, 1 in 5, they - if they're employed, they're working more than one job.

So a lot of people, while unemployment is low, they're working more than one job. They're not making as much money as they used to. And there's - they're really angry at the kind of leadership class of the Americas and wondering, how do we get in the game? How do we get to participate in some of the bounty that America's enjoying?

KING: So how do you think Bernie Sanders should tailor his message differently? If those folks are out there and they're saying, we're angry, we're going to vote for him, what would you like to see him do differently? Be - just be less angry?

SIMMONS: No. I - what I would like for him to do is just to sort of say to America, hey, Democrat, liberal or conservative, moderate, in between, independent, join our cause. We're going to fix things for the working people in America. We're going to make sure everybody has a chance to succeed in this country. We're going to take some more money away from the billionaires and millionaires, as he likes to say. But we're going to make sure that whether you're a Democratic conservative or a Democratic progressive, you're going to do better under a Bernie Sanders administration. Come join me.

KING: If you look at the Democratic category - the demographic categories, excuse me, that he won in Nevada - young people, older people, Latinx people; he did not get walloped on black voters. That is broad-based if you look at it on the surface. Should there be some amount of excitement about this?

SIMMONS: Well, the question is, still, what does it mean also down ballot and in states? Remember - this is an Electoral College contest, not a national popular vote, as much as many people would like a national popular vote. At the same time, there are Senate races happening all over the country.

So if you're Mark Kelly in Arizona and you're starting to get advertising from your opponent taking on - taking you on as a democratic socialist, or, you know, if you're running against Mitch McConnell in Kentucky or if you're a sitting senator running in Michigan, you know, these are questions - do you want to have to answer for your sins, as well as the things that Bernie Sanders may be doing - the people in your community aren't happy about? You want the Democratic leader to be a plus on your balance sheet, not a negative.

KING: If it does ultimately look like it's going to be Bernie Sanders who's the nominee, at what point should the Democratic Party get on board and start working with his campaign to unify Democratic voters?

SIMMONS: Well, the one thing about politics is that the sort of establishment is much more used to getting behind the movement candidate than the movement forces are used to getting behind the establishment candidate, right? We saw Hillary Clinton not really be able to get all those Bernie Sanders movement voters to her side in 2016. But Barack Obama was able to get all those Democratic establishment Hillary Clinton voters to his side in 2008.

So the Democrat establishment is a pretty malleable bunch. It's the reason why they're sort of there, right? And if you're for somebody who's kind of, you know, a democratic socialist who's, you know, charging the upper class with, you know, theft, you're probably not a practical voter. You're somebody who's there for an ideological cause.

KING: Yeah. Yeah.

SIMMONS: So I think that Bernie Sanders ought to be able to bring the establishment along; he's just got to bring them along.

KING: Jamal Simmons, I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it there. Thanks so much for your time.

SIMMONS: OK. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.