By DAVID SIDERS and HOLLY OTTERBEIN – Politico
On Tuesday night, Joe Biden’s campaign was celebrating his latest primary night triumph.
By Wednesday morning, #NeverBiden, #WriteinBernie and #DemExit2020 hashtags began trending on Twitter.
There’s no question it’s been a banner two weeks for Biden. But lurking in the background of his sudden ascension to all-but-presumptive nominee is evidence that at least some Bernie Sanders supporters might not migrate to him in November, weakening him in the general election.
The significance of the problem became apparent in the same string of primaries that put Biden on the cusp of the nomination.
In Michigan — a state critical to Democrats’ efforts to reclaim their general election footing in the Rust Belt — just 2 of 5 Sanders backers said they would vote Democratic in November, regardless of who became the nominee, according to exit polls. Four in five said they’d be dissatisfied with Biden as the Democratic standard-bearer.
Though it’s unclear how widespread or adamant the #NeverBiden contingent is — will they really stay home when the alternative is another four years of President Donald Trump? — the misgivings at least put the Biden campaign on notice that it has significant work to do to bring along Sanders’ base.
There is certainly anecdotal evidence that for many progressives, Biden represents everything they dislike about mainstream Democratic politics. On “The Young Turks,” which draws millions of viewers, Krystal Ball, the former MSNBC host, said she couldn’t vote for Trump.
“But you can leave it blank,” she said, referring to the November ballot.
Ball said she is an “undecided voter” because “if they always can say, ‘Look, you’ve got to vote for us no matter what, you’ve got no other choice,’ then they’re always going to treat us like this.”
Paul Maslin, a top Democratic pollster who worked on the presidential campaigns of Jimmy Carter and Howard Dean, said that in their overtures to Sanders’ supporters, Democrats have “time, Trump and hopefully Bernie himself on our side.”
However, he said, “It’s a huge challenge.”
The November election is almost eight months away, and unlike in 2016, Sanders’ supporters don’t have the hard feelings of superdelegates — the party bigwigs who clinched the nomination for Hillary Clinton — to overcome. This year, Sanders’ momentum was blunted not by those insiders but by black voters in the South and, following his victory in South Carolina, by the broader electorate.
Polls show Biden is also viewed more favorably now than Hillary Clinton was in 2016.
“At the end of the day, it’s Biden or Trump,” said Boyd Brown, a former South Carolina lawmaker and former Democratic National Committee member. “They’ll turn out.”
Still, some Sanders supporters see the consolidation of moderate presidential candidates and other elected officials around Biden as the establishment asserting its power over the grassroots. Trump has happily stoked the divide, declaring that the Democratic primary is “rigged” against Sanders, just as he did four years ago.
“The rationale for us is that our votes need to be earned and that we’ve been taken for granted, and the party never moves to us,” said Alyson Metzger, a 54-year-old writer and progressive activist in New York City who supports Sanders. “If they install Joe Biden, I will not vote for Biden. … This is not democratic what’s happening in the Democratic primary.”
For Metzger, not voting for Biden is a matter of conscience. For others, it is also strategy. On “Never Biden” Facebook pages and in Twitter threads, some activists argue that if Trump is reelected, Democrats will fare better in the next midterms and that the party will be more likely to nominate a progressive in 2024. If Biden is elected, they see eight years of centrist governance.
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