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Sanders' Presidential Campaign To Visit States That Helped Trump In 2016


All right. Today, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is beginning a four-day tour of the key states that helped put President Trump in the White House in 2016. Sanders is campaigning in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, among other states. As NPR's Scott Detrow reports, this is the latest step Sanders is taking to try and convince Democratic voters that he is the candidate best positioned to beat Trump in 2020.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Bernie Sanders' campaign manager thinks the increasingly crowded Democratic presidential primary will revolve around two key questions. The first, says Faiz Shakir, is which candidate can best deliver all the changes Democratic voters want? He thinks Sanders is in good shape on that front.

FAIZ SHAKIR: However, I think we have some convincing to do about the case that we are the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump as well.

DETROW: That's despite the fact that Sanders is near the top of the 18-candidate pack when it comes to both fundraising and early poll numbers. A big reason why Shakir thinks Sanders needs to make his case on electability - the perception that Sanders may just be too liberal, too extreme for many voters. That's especially true going into an election where Trump and Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will paint Democrats as socialists.


MITCH MCCONNELL: I never thought in my lifetime we'd have a serious debate about the virtues of capitalism, and we're having that in this country right now. You add up things like - packing the Supreme Court, getting rid of the Electoral College, the Green New Deal and Medicare for none, and you have a prescription for turning America into something it never has been and never should be.

DETROW: Shakir says, as an actual democratic socialist, Sanders would be happy to have that debate. In fact, Shakir says a big focus of these Midwestern stops will be arguing that Sanders' platform could appeal to the voters in the three states that put Trump in the White House.

SHAKIR: He offered a bunch of rhetoric that I think was stolen right out of Bernie Sanders' language. He talked about draining the swamp, about saving Medicare and Social Security, about cutting fair-trade deals.

DETROW: It's not just Sanders who's focused on electability. A lot more than in past years, Democratic voters are saying that simply winning is more important than any single policy. Electability, of course, is a subjective thing, but the ability to win back Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin would probably fit into most Democrats' definition of it. Former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke campaigned at Penn State University in the first week of his candidacy.


BETO O'ROURKE: We need to first show up with the humility of acknowledging that I don't know what's important to the Happy Valley - to the students at Penn State until I show up and listen to them.

DETROW: Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar made Wisconsin one of her first campaign stops. Democrats in those three states are welcoming the attention.

GWEN MOORE: I think lesson learned - that you really can't take Wisconsin for granted.

DETROW: That's Wisconsin Congresswoman Gwen Moore. But Moore makes the point that winning back Wisconsin and the rest of the crumbled blue wall goes far beyond the rural white voters that often get the most attention.

MOORE: You can't put all your money into trying to make sure that rural folks get your vote. African-Americans are just like any other voters, they need to be dealt into the game. They need to feel like there is something that they can gain from it as well.

DETROW: Courting black voters is something that Sanders struggled with in 2016, according to many primary exit polls. This time, he's making a point of focusing on racial disparities, like he did last week addressing Reverend Al Sharpton's National Action Network.


BERNIE SANDERS: So when we talk about disparity, we are talking about the need for more black doctors, more black dentists, more black nurses, more black psychologists.

DETROW: In the year since the tense, bitter 2016 primary, Sanders' platform has been embraced by the mainstream of the Democratic Party. The question for many Democratic voters is whether it can be embraced by the middle of the country too. Scott Detrow, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.