Sanders faces uphill battle to beat Trump as president’s poll numbers soar

For now, much of the Democratic establishment thinks it’s impossible for him to win the presidency during a growing economy.

By World Israel News Staff and AP

“I think that people are kind of wanting to turn the pages and get more radical, or switch from the status quo,” said Terry Reece, a 62-year-old African American who owns a small media company in Las Vegas. Reece filled out a preference card for Sen. Bernie Sanders during early voting this week in the Nevada caucuses.

That’s exactly the sentiment Sanders is counting on to carry him to victory in the battle to take on President Donald Trump.

Since the early days of Sanders’ second presidential campaign, he and his supporters have sought to allay concerns that he’s a fringe candidate whose call for political revolution would doom the party to another humiliating defeat. The strong showing in Iowa and New Hampshire gives him fresh evidence to make that case.

However, the challenge of proving his electoral viability has been made more difficult by Trump’s strong showing in the polls. In early February, Gallup reported that Trump’s job approval rating rose to 49%, “his highest in Gallup polling since he took office in 2017.”

Trump enjoys a 94% approval rating among Republicans, up six percentage points since early January He also has seen a rise in approval among independents with a 42% approval rating.

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Gallup also found that “Americans’ confidence in the economy is higher than at any point in the past two decades.”

Sanders is putting on a brave face. He told a crowd at the University of Nevada Las Vegas on Tuesday:

“The reason that we are going to win here in Nevada, with your help, the reason that we are going to win the Democratic nomination, with your help, the reason we are going to beat Trump is we have an agenda that speaks to the needs of working families, not the billionaire class.”

Sanders faces high expectations in Nevada, which formally holds its Democratic presidential caucuses on Saturday. He has a strong organization and has generated enthusiasm among younger and Latino voters. But there are plenty of hurdles that could dent his confidence in the weeks ahead.

Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg is expected to use his debate stage premiere on Wednesday to attack Sanders’ broad call for economic and political revolution as unworkable and too liberal for more mainstream voters who simply want to defeat Trump.

Tim Miller, a former strategist with Jeb Bush’s failed Republican presidential campaign in 2016, is one of several analysts in both parties who see parallels between the Republican contest in 2016 and this year’s Democratic primary.

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In both cases, a party outsider held a grip on a tight group of supporters while a bevy of centrists split the vote against him. As Trump kept scoring victories in the 2016 primaries, he eventually won backing from GOP voters who might not have liked him but were focused on defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The question for Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, is whether the party will similarly warm to him if he can pile up more victories. For now, much of the Democratic establishment thinks it’s impossible for him to win the presidency during a growing economy.

Some House Democrats are openly expressing concern that a Sanders nomination could cost the party control of that chamber.

Sanders could have a challenging time finding a winning path against Trump. He is poorly positioned in the perennial swing state of Florida, with its older voters and population of Cuban immigrants, many of whom have a visceral dislike of socialism.

It’s unlikely that Sanders could flip growing Sun Belt states like Arizona, Georgia or Texas, because a Democratic victory in those places depends on both motivating the states’ expanding minority populations and converting moderate white Republicans.

That leaves Sanders’ clearest path through the trio of Rust Belt states that gave Trump his 2016 victory — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Notably, Sanders has proposed banning fracking, which could be a liability in Pennsylvania, where the drilling process is a key part of the state’s economy.

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Margaret Hines, a writer and artist in Reno, voted for Clinton in the 2016 primary but backs Sanders this time precisely because of the significant changes he’s proposed.

“I don’t think vanilla is going to do it this time,” she said.