News Analysis: U.S. socialist-Democrat candidate Sanders down but not out

Source: Xinhua| 2019-07-15 12:58:23|Editor: Wu Qin
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by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, July 14 (Xinhua) -- Despite much fanfare around him in the last U.S. presidential elections, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders is slipping in the polls, but experts have said he's still in the race to grab the 2020 Democratic nomination.

"Sanders isn't finished. He's on life support. He has a core set of supporters," Republican strategist and TV news personality Ford O'Connell told Xinhua.

Sanders saw his popularity surge in the lead-up to the 2016 elections, when he ran for the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton. Supporters were wildly enthusiastic about the openly socialist candidate who said he would turn Washington upside down.

Sanders was in some ways a mirror reflection of U.S. President Donald Trump -- an anti-establishment figure who clearly understood that Washington had failed a sizable chunk of Americans for decades. Sanders railed against Wall Street and called for a radical shift toward a more socialist style of governance.

Just a few months ago, many supporters, media outlets and experts expressed the belief that he would be the front runner in the race to grab the Democratic nomination and face off against Trump.

However, while Sanders had a fresh message in 2016, times have changed fast. His far-left vision for America is now shared by many of the other 23 candidates vying for the Democratic ticket, making it hard for him to stand out.

This is happening as Democrats take a hard left turn, with several candidates advocating open borders and free healthcare for those living illegally in the United States.

Some polls show the senator from the U.S. state of Vermont, tied in second place with candidates Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, has lost ground since the first Democratic debate last month. On Friday, a Fox News poll had him neck-in-neck with Harris -- Sanders with 14 percent and Harris with 12 percent -- and Thursday's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed him with 13 percent and behind Warren's 19 percent.

Being tied for second place means that Sanders not only needs to win against front runner and former Vice President Joe Biden, but also have to fight off Warren and Harris.

Some experts said they believe that while Sanders has a core group of die-hard supporters, he may not be able to move beyond this base.

"He's facing a different political reality than he did in 2016 -- there are many candidates and he is just one of several progressives in the race," Christopher Galdieri, an assistant professor of politics at Saint Anselm College, told Xinhua.

"He hasn't adjusted his strategy accordingly. He may turn out to be something like Ron Paul in 2012, a candidate with a small core of devoted followers but little ability to build beyond that," Galdieri said, referring to the GOP senator with a fresh set of ideas who did not move beyond his loyal but small following.

Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Darrell West said Sanders is facing a tough position. "It will be hard for him to maintain his strong status when there are younger candidates making similar appeals."

However, some experts said that despite being down in the polls, Sanders has not yet sung his swan song. Sanders' core supporters are highly enthusiastic, and the senators' rallies draw revved up audiences who are hungry to hear his message.

"In this Tour-de-France style race, all you need to continue is a small-donor base -- ordinary people giving 20 (U.S.) dollars multiple times -- and name recognition," Clay Ramsay, a senior researcher of public opinion at the University of Maryland, told Xinhua.

"Sanders loves running for president -- he's convinced it's valuable in changing U.S. politics, whether he wins or loses," Ramsay said, adding that polls are not very meaningful at this early stage of the game.

Sanders' message resonates with millennials in particular, as Sanders said he wants to forgive student loans.

In an op-ed published by the website of Fortune magazine on Tuesday, Sanders wrote that 50 years ago, the cost of attending a top U.S. public university was virtually free. And four decades ago, the maximum government grant, called a Pell grant, paid for around 80 percent of expenses at a four-year public college.

In sharp contrast, Sanders continued, today it costs over 21,000 dollars a year to attend those same schools, and maximum Pell Grants cover only about 30 percent of the expenses.

Currently, the average graduates end up with more than 30,000 dollars of student debt. Sanders argued that it affects the economy as it prevents young people from purchasing homes and cars.

Though Sanders' plan to forgive student loans resonates with a younger generation deep in student debt, many moderate voters are concerned about high prices and skyrocketing taxes that could come with student debt forgiveness programs. Such high taxes could devastate the U.S. economy, some experts said.