Sanders-Warren Niceties Mask Growing Tension and Suspicion Among Allies
(Bloomberg) -- Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are both attracting large crowds as they try to build a movement to transform the U.S. -- but they’re standing in each other’s way.
Underneath the niceties -- the two mostly agree on the issues and refuse to attack each other -- are growing tensions among their allies and supporters as each makes a case to carry the progressive mantle. If no clear choice emerges, it could split the liberal wing and end up helping moderate Joe Biden, who is leading in most polls as they’re locked in a tight battle for second.
And both camps have plenty of stubborn supporters who distrust the other candidate.
The two New England senators -- Sanders represents Vermont and Warren Massachusetts -- poll well with those who identify as liberal. Warren does better with older voters and loyal Democrats, while Sanders is stronger with younger people and disaffected voters who say they feel ignored by both parties.
Conversations at recent Sanders and Warren campaign events in San Francisco and Seattle revealed significant differences in their supporters’ priorities -- and how they view each other.
Sanders backers are quick to emphasize that he’s been calling for government-run health care and free college longer than anyone else in the race, and they trust him over Warren to deliver. Many say they like Warren, although some worry she’d compromise with what they see as the “establishment” if elected.
“I respect her but I’m not sure she’s for real,” said Terry O’Brien, a teacher in Berkeley, California, who voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in 2016 and consumer advocate Ralph Nader in 2000. “I plan on voting for Bernie Sanders.”
O’Brien’s top issue is cutting the defense budget and ending wars, and he said Sanders has been the most vocal and consistent for slashing the military. “I can’t be sure that she’s going to bomb people less,” he said.
Paul Douglas, who manages a Berkeley coffee shop, praised Warren as a “pit bull” when it comes to confronting Wall Street. But he said he was “pretty solid behind Bernie” because “he’s been espousing a lot of these policies for a long time.”
Among Sanders supporters, Warren is the clear second choice in a recent Pew Research Center survey of 2020 primary voters — with 29% naming her, while 14% said Biden was their No. 2 preference. Yet the feeling isn’t mutual. Among Warren fans, 39% named Kamala Harris as a backup option, while 23% picked Sanders and 13% chose Biden.
“I’m with Warren. She thinks through policy. She has a vision,” said Kelly Kajumulo, 52, who attended a Warren rally on Sunday in Seattle. “She’s on top of how to work within the situation that we have, the capitalist system that we have, to provide basic human rights and necessities.”
“I like a lot of Bernie Sanders’ policies, but I think he has worked within a bubble for a long time and he hasn’t done what he needs to do to reach outside of that,” she said, suggesting that he pays less attention to combating racism and sexism.
If Warren weren’t in the race, Kajumulo said she’d be considering Cory Booker or Julian Castro.
Sanders rally-goers tend to be suspicious of other Democrats — some say they may not vote for a more moderate candidate like Biden or Harris in a general election. Warren backers are more likely to insist they’d vote for whoever the Democratic nominee is in order to throw President Donald Trump out of office.
Some progressives wish one would drop out and support the other, and others see a dream ticket in Sanders-Warren for the general election.
“I have a feeling — and most of us are hoping — that the two of them will get together and decide to join forces,” said Suzanne Cowan of San Francisco, who plans to support Sanders. “Together they’d be more powerful than pretty much all the other candidates. There’s a very strong chance that the two of them united could defeat Trump.”
Many Sanders supporters say they want a break from President Barack Obama’s governing style.
“Elizabeth Warren might be similar to Obama with their neo-liberal compromises that keep the private industry alive. And I really think we need to remove profit from health care,” said Hugh O’Connell, a graphic designer who attended a Sanders rally in San Francisco.
“I don’t really trust her. I think Bernie Sanders is the only person who would not be afraid to dismantle a trillion-dollar industry,” he said, though he added that he’d likely vote for Warren in the general election if she’s the Democratic nominee. “I don’t even know if I would vote for the others.”
Some progressives who backed Sanders in the 2016 primaries have now switched to Warren.
“I’ve cooled on Bernie. He’s too much of a curmudgeon,” said Patrick Kollar of Roy, Washington. “His stump speech hasn’t changed since 2016. He doesn’t have solid policy proposals like Warren. I don’t like what happened with the Bernie bros last election,” he added, using a pejorative term for some of Sanders’s most combative backers.
Warren is also attracting voters who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries, a sign that the Massachusetts senator has appeal among less-ideological Democrats.
“I think we’re ready for a woman,” said Susan Stoner, a Seattle psychologist. “For me it’s kind of a tough call between Elizabeth and Kamala.”
Judy Mitchell, a retiree who came to see Warren in Seattle, said she’s torn between Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Booker and Harris. She has no intention of supporting Sanders or Biden.
“We’ve had enough old white men. They haven’t done much for us,” she said. “Sorry. It’s time for a change.”
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