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."

Go deeper

Joe Biden declared Washington Democratic primary winner

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden was declared on Monday the winner of the Democratic presidential primary in Washington state, AP reports, narrowly defeating Bernie Sanders.

The big picture: Biden was also the winner of Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho and Missouri on Tuesday — snatching most of the delegates up for grabs from Sanders, who faces a quickly narrowing path to the Democratic nomination.

What to watch in tonight's debate: A new Joe Biden

Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden at the Democratic debate at Gaillard Center, Charleston, South Carolina, Feb. 25. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Viewers tuning in to tonight’s Democratic debate will meet a new Joe Biden — one who’s adopted two new progressive policies from Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and who’s eager to pull their supporters away from the movement they’ve built into his own coalition.

Why it matters: This could very well be the last primary debate of the 2020 cycle, and Biden knows he has to start the work of winning over Sanders’ supporters before Sanders drops out.

4 takeaways from the Biden-Sanders Democratic debate

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The last time former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders took the debate stage, eight candidates were still competing for the nomination, Biden's campaign looked to be on its last legs, and the coronavirus epidemic was the subject of just one question from moderators.

The state of play: The world has changed dramatically since Feb. 25. Bumping elbows and standing the CDC-recommended six feet apart in a CNN studio without an audience, the two candidates, both septuagenarians, sparred over their visions for an America paralyzed by a global health crisis.