Mar 11, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Sanders says he's staying in race, looks forward to debating Biden

Bernie Sanders said at a press conference Wednesday that he will not suspend his presidential campaign after a second consecutive week of bruising primary losses to Joe Biden, telling reporters that he looks forward to Sunday's one-on-one debate.

Why it matters: Sanders' path to the nomination narrowed significantly after Biden built up his delegate lead in most of the states that voted Tuesday — including the key prize of Michigan, where Sanders' surprise win over Hillary Clinton in 2016 gave him a needed boost of momentum.

What he's saying: "What became even more apparent yesterday is that while we are currently losing the delegate count — approximately 800 delegates for Joe Biden and 660 for us — we are strongly winning in two enormously important areas which will determine the future of our country," Sanders said.

  • "Poll after poll, including exit polls, show that a strong majority of the American people support our progressive agenda."
  • "We are winning the generational debate. While Joe Biden continues to do very well with older Americans, especially those people over 65, our campaign continues to win the vast majority of the votes of younger people."

Between the lines: Sanders could have gone scorched earth on Biden — and he still could at Sunday's debate — but instead he took a more measured tone as part of a clear strategy to pressure Biden to adopt more progressive policies and language.

  • Sanders said Sunday's debate will show voters which candidate is best positioned to beat Trump — but we’ve seen throughout this cycle how debates don’t really change the standings of the race, and it's especially unlikely to happen this late in the primary.
  • It's more likely that Sanders will use the debate as a last push to define the policy parameters of the race.

The big picture: Sanders is facing calls to drop out from some prominent members of the Democratic Party who believe it's time to pivot to defeating President Trump in the general election.

  • House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Tuesday that the Democratic National Committee should "step in" and cancel the debate now that Biden is the "prohibitive favorite" to win the nomination.
  • James Carville said on MSNBC: "Let's shut this puppy down. ... This thing is decided."
  • David Axelrod on CNN: "You’re gonna see enormous pressure from all elements of the party to yield to the results that we now can see."
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