MANCHESTER, N.H. — Top aides to Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., believe his win in New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday can propel him to the White House. In a series of conversations with Yahoo News, they detailed elements of their strategy for victory: emphasizing his personal history and record on civil rights as a way to connect with minority voters and targeting Super Tuesday primary states where he may hold an edge over Hillary Clinton.
Michael Briggs, Sanders’ longtime communications director, discussed the race during an event in Manchester, N.H., on Monday afternoon, one day before the primary. Briggs emphasized that Sanders began the race far behind former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the polls.
“I think what you’ve seen all over the country so far, and in Iowa, and in New Hampshire, where he started up 30, 40, 50 points behind, in some cases — the more people who know about Bernie and his ideas, the better they like him,” Briggs said.
In recent days, Sanders’ campaign has certainly had the trappings of a winner. On Monday, a group of musical artists, including the band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, performed a new theme song for Sanders, “Feel the Bern,” at a rally at the University of New Hampshire. Afterward, Sanders’ wife, Jane, gushed about the song to Yahoo News.
“It was so fantastic! It was so moving! Really nice,” she said.
Sanders even seems to be stealing media attention from his rivals. On Tuesday before the New Hampshire primary results were announced, Yahoo News spotted Fox News’ chief White House correspondent Ed Henry at Sanders’ party in Concord. Henry generally covers Clinton. Yahoo asked Henry why he was at Sanders’ primary party instead of reporting on Clinton.
“We’re going with the winner,” Henry said.
Sanders started his campaign in April as the ultimate underdog. Clinton was the overwhelming frontrunner, and the Democratic primary was regularly characterized as her coronation. Less than 10 months later, Sanders has forced his way into the race.
Sanders came within a fraction of a percentage point of winning the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1. His victory in New Hampshire on Tuesday came by a large enough margin that it was declared by multiple networks within minutes of the polls closing. Still, conventional wisdom holds that Clinton has an insurmountable advantage in the next states to come on the primary calendar.
Nevertheless, Sanders’ team is bullish about his positioning going forward.
Briggs pointed to the fact Clinton is far more well known than Sanders.
“It’s a matter of introducing him to people who might not have heard of him up against a person who’s perhaps the most famous — one of the most famous people — in the world,” he explained.
Briggs predicted Sanders would benefit from momentum and name recognition gained through his performances in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“I think that doing well coming from so far behind to a dead heat in Iowa and doing well here in New Hampshire will help slingshot us into the states that follow and give us the bigger stage, the bigger forum to present his views and let people know more about him,” Briggs said, adding, “That’s going to be a key to turning those states into the Sanders column.”
The next two states on the primary calendar, Nevada and South Carolina, are thought to constitute a barrier that could protect Clinton from the Sanders surge. According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls, Clinton is ahead by nearly 20 points in Nevada, where Democrats will vote on Feb. 20. She also has nearly a 30-point lead in South Carolina, where members of the party will head to the polls on Feb. 27.
Clinton’s advantages in these next two states in part reflect her edge with African-American and Latino voters. However, at Sanders’ New Hampshire primary party on Tuesday, his senior adviser Tad Devine proclaimed the campaign is “really looking forward to the opportunity to compete for votes” among minorities.
Devine suggested the campaign’s internal polling shows there is “movement” with Latinos in Nevada heading toward Sanders. He also hinted at the strategy Sanders and his team plan to use to woo African-American and Latino voters. by focusing on the senator’s personal history.
“Bernie Sanders has an incredibly powerful story to tell from his own biography and experience. He’s the son of a Polish immigrant. … He grew up in an immigrant neighborhood in Brooklyn,” Devine said. “We believe that story is going to resonate powerfully.”
Devine also argued that African-American voters could be swayed by the fact Sanders pushed for civil rights “when he was a student at the University of Chicago.”
Even if Sanders manages to survive Nevada and South Carolina, the so-called “Super Tuesday” primaries on March 1 are expected to favor Clinton. In addition to Sanders’ home, Vermont, Briggs identified a few areas he believes they could compete in out of the 11 states that will hold Democratic Party elections that day.
“I think we like our chances in a lot of states on Super Tuesday. We’re still figuring out his schedule and where he goes, but we’ve been to Massachusetts, to some very big rallies in Boston and large rallies outside Boston, and parts of the state. One of his first big rallies ever was in Minneapolis … so Minnesota I think is a place that’s in play for him. It’s a caucus state, and those tend to work better for Sen. Sanders. Colorado looks good,” Briggs said.
Another senior adviser to Sanders gave a far more blunt assessment of Clinton’s supposed Super Tuesday advantage at the New Hampshire primary party on Tuesday night.
“I’m telling you, the March 1 firewall, it ain’t much of a firewall,” the Sanders adviser said.
Cover tile photo: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters