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BURLINGTON, Vt. — Bernie Sanders dismissed former Vice President Joe Biden Wednesday as a candidate backed by the “corporate establishment,” one day after Biden shocked the political world by winning 10 of 14 Super Tuesday contests in the Democratic presidential primary, and vaulting into the overall delegate lead.
“What this campaign, I think, is increasingly about is, which side are you on,” Sanders said as he began his remarks.
Sanders went on to describe his campaign as “unprecedented” because it “has taken on the entire corporate establishment” and the “entire political establishment.”
“That is an establishment which is working frantically to try to defeat us, and there’s not been a campaign I think that has been having to deal with the kind of venom we’re seeing from some in the corporate media,” Sanders said. “This campaign has been compared to the coronavirus on television. We have been described as the Nazi army marching across France, etcetera.”
Sanders predicted he and Biden would ultimately be “neck and neck” once all the results are in from California and expressed confidence he would emerge victorious after the pair “debate and discuss the differences that we have.” While he sharply criticized Biden’s policy positions, Sanders said he “absolutely” believes any candidate who wins a plurality of delegates should receive the party’s nomination and expressed hope the campaign wouldn’t “degenerate” into “personal attacks.”
Sanders, who conceded that he did not turn out as many young voters on Tuesday as he had anticipated, went on to say he hoped the race ahead would remain “an issue-oriented campaign.”
“Joe Biden is somebody I have known for many years. I like Joe. I think he’s a very decent human being. Joe and I have a very different voting record, Joe and I have a very different vision for the future of this country, and Joe and I are running very different campaigns,” Sanders said.
He then proceeded to outline some of his disagreements with Biden. He highlighted several elements of Biden’s record, including his past vote in the Senate to authorize the Iraq War, his past support for cutting Social Security and his support of a Wall Street bailout following the 2007 financial crisis. Sanders also contrasted his own support for universal health care with what he characterized as Biden’s desire to “maintain what I consider to be a dysfunctional and cruel health care system.”
The senator from Vermont also went after Biden by attacking those who have donated to his presidential campaign, saying Biden “has received funding from at least 60 billionaires.”
“So what does it mean when you have a campaign which is funded very significantly by the wealthy and the powerful? Does anyone seriously believe that the president backed by the corporate world is going to bring about the changes in this country that working families and the middle class and lower-income people desperately need?” Sanders asked.
Biden’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sanders’s remarks.
Prior to the South Carolina primary on Saturday, Biden’s campaign appeared to be in dire straits. Sanders had won victories in two of the three early states — New Hampshire and Nevada — while winning the popular vote in Iowa. Sanders had a delegate lead, and polls showed him poised to expand it on Super Tuesday. But after Biden won South Carolina by a wide margin, multiple other candidates dropped out and gave him their endorsements. It all contributed to momentum that helped Biden outperform expectations. Sanders won just four states on Super Tuesday, though his victory in California has helped keep the delegate race close.
Still, with the results showing Biden leading the race, the onus to explain what happened on Super Tuesday fell on Sanders. His team announced his press conference roughly an hour before it took place on Wednesday afternoon. The event was held in a small room at his campaign’s office here in his hometown. It was packed with reporters, many of whom sat on the floor in front of Sanders as he spoke.
The reversal of fortune in the Democratic primary has raised questions about Sanders’s views on how best to pick the party’s presidential nominee. When it seemed all but assured that he would finish the race with the most delegates, Sanders said he believed any candidate with a plurality of delegates should receive the nomination even if they did not get a full majority of the various state delegates who select the nominee. With Biden taking the delegate lead, some observers wondered if Sanders would reverse this position. However, Sanders reaffirmed to Yahoo News that he “absolutely” thinks a plurality of delegates is the proper criterion for a nominee.
Some critics have characterized Sanders’s support for a plurality as a reversal of his position in 2016, when he continued to run against Hillary Clinton well after it was clear she would have the most delegates on the convention floor. At Wednesday’s press conference, he suggested he believes it is unfair to compare his stance this year to his past position, since there have been rule changes to the Democratic primary process as part of a reform process that he pushed for.
“I get a little bit annoyed because, I think, the media has been distorting my record on this. You all know that the rules of the Democratic convention are different today than they were in 2016. It’s something that we fought for,” Sanders said. “I believed then, and I believe now, that it should be the American people through the primary process who determine who the Democratic nominee is.”
Those rule changes included diminishing the role of superdelegates — a group that largely includes party insiders and elected officials — in the process. This year, superdelegates won’t get to vote at the convention unless no nominee is selected on the first ballot. Last time around, superdelegates were able to weigh in throughout the process, and their decision was not bound by any primary result.
“Four years ago, before the first vote was cast in Iowa, Hillary Clinton had 500 superdelegates lined up,” Sanders said. “It’s like starting a hundred-yard dash with one candidate … on the 30-yard line.”
However, party insiders could still play a role this year if none of the candidates secures an outright majority of delegates on the first ballot. As he reiterated his support for the nomination going to the candidate with the most delegates — even if it’s not a full majority — Sanders predicted the public would be extremely upset if a candidate who did not have the best primary performance was selected at the convention. He painted a picture of this scenario.
“I just want all of you to think about what it would look like if candidate X — and I don’t know who that candidate X might be, I hope it’s me, could be somebody else — goes into the convention in Milwaukee with the most votes, and then the party leadership and the insiders and the corporate world say, ‘Oh, yes, the people voted for you … you got more votes than your opponent, but we, the corporate world, the insiders, we don’t think you’re the candidate, and we’re going to select candidate Z.’ I think that would cause massive dismay within the American people,” Sanders said.
Biden’s strong Super Tuesday was fueled by support from African-American voters in the South. While Sanders is supported by a majority of young voters, youth turnout has been low. As he discussed the campaign going forward, Sanders said he hopes youth turnout will improve.
“Have we been as successful as I had hoped in bringing young people in? … The answer is no,” he said. “We’re making some progress, but historically, everybody knows that young people do not vote in the kind of numbers that older people vote in. I think that will change in the general election, but … to be honest with you, we have not done as well in bringing young people into the process. It is not easy.”
Sanders also addressed Biden’s dominance with black voters. While he said that “there’s no denying that Joe Biden has done very well with the African-American community,” Sanders suggested that, nationally, the picture is not as clear as it is in the South. He pointed out that he was victorious among “people of color” in California.
“We won that big time, big time, not even close,” Sanders said.
He also predicted he would “do better” with African-American voters going forward.
While the race seems to be coming down to a contest between Sanders and Biden, Elizabeth Warren is, as of now, staying in it. Her campaign has said she would be reassessing her position on Wednesday. Sanders said he had had a phone call with Warren on Wednesday morning.
“What Sen. Warren told me is that she is assessing her campaign. She has not made any decisions as of this point,” Sanders said. “It is important, I think, for all of us — certainly me, who has known Elizabeth Warren for many, many years — to respect the time and the space that she needs to make her decision.”
Both Warren and Sanders are staunch progressives. Her decision to remain in the race has frustrated some Sanders supporters who believe her presence helps Biden, who is more of a moderate. Many Sanders supporters have vented these frustrations online, which has contributed to the senator’s fan base being branded as particularly negative. At the press conference, Sanders told Yahoo News he’s opposed to anyone pressuring Warren to leave and is “disgusted” by anyone engaging in personal attacks online.
“Elizabeth Warren is a very, very excellent senator. She’s run a strong campaign. She will make her own decision in her own time,” Sanders said. “In terms of vitriol online, I’m disgusted by it. … I think the Twitter world is an opportunity for people to debate issues … but not to make vitriolic attacks on somebody because you disagree with them.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Sanders’s campaign announced he is heading to Michigan on Friday. He won Michigan against Clinton in 2016, and the state is likely crucial to his chances of overtaking Biden. Sanders said he believes highlighting Biden’s support for “disastrous trade agreements” that have been blamed for eliminating manufacturing jobs in Michigan will help him win support there. However, he rejected the notion that any single state is key to his path forward.
“I’m asked every day, Do you have to win this state? Do you have to win that state?” Sanders said, adding, “I wish we could win all of the states.”
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