Feb 19, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Sanders pondered a primary challenge against Obama in 2012

Bernie Sanders and Obama
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders pondered a primary challenge against former President Obama in 2012, forcing then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to talk him down, reports The Atlantic.

Why it matters: While Obama hasn't endorsed a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, he cautioned last year that "the average American doesn't think that we have to completely tear down the system and remake it" — a veiled jab at the Vermont senator, the current front-runner.

What happened: The threat of a Sanders primary challenge — relayed via fellow Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) — "absolutely panicked" Obama's re-election team, Jim Messina, his 2012 campaign manager, told The Atlantic.

  • Top Obama strategist David Plouffe confirmed that Leahy passed along the news.
  • It ultimately took Reid two calls to convince Sanders to back down.

The big picture: The Atlantic also reported on a 2013 meeting between Obama and Democratic senators about an Obama budget proposal that could cut Social Security benefits, which led to Sanders speaking out against the president's decision.

  • "It seemed the match of someone who prided himself on his cool intellect and removed analysis versus someone who was convinced with absolute ferocity with the rightness of his world view and is not given to accepting anything from those who don’t agree with it," a senator who was in the room told The Atlantic.

Worth noting: A person close to the former president told The Atlantic that "Obama will campaign his heart out for whoever the nominee is, and that includes Senator Sanders."

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