Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) cut a defiant figure at his press conference in Vermont Wednesday, refusing to exit the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and declaring that he believes his socialist platform will ultimately prevail over former Vice President Joe Biden’s more “moderate” agenda.
Sanders lost at least three of the five states that voted in Tuesday’s “mini-Tuesday” Democratic primaries, and came in a solid 15 points behind Biden in all-important Michigan, where the two candidates faced their first official test in a 2020 “battleground” state.
Washington state remains too close to call, though Sanders did reportedly pick up North Dakota.
Sanders and his team reiterated Wednesday that he plans to stay in the race until at least Sunday, when he’ll take on Biden in a head-to-head debate in Phoenix, Arizona. Sanders’ team hopes that a solid performance in the town-hall style event will give Bernie the boost he needs to reclaim the lead in the delegate count (he remains about 150 delegates behind Biden and losing ground).
Sanders told his audience today that, despite all evidence, he believes he is winning.
“Last night was not a good night for our campaign from a delegate point of view,” Sanders said. “[W]e are strongly winning in two enormously important areas which will determine the future of our country.”
“It is not just an ideological debate that our progressive movement is winning,” the Vermont socialist added. “We are winning the generational debate.”
To support that idea that he’s “winning,” Sanders cited exit polls, which show support for Sanders and his progressive policies peaking among young voters, including older Millennials in their late 30s and early 40s. The problem, though, is that that while young people seem to be turning out in droves to Sanders rallies, they’re not turning out to the ballot box; in some cases, voting rates among the 18-25 crowd are actually down.
The youth vote accounted for around 13% of the electorate on Super Tuesday and initial reports indicate that, in Michigan, where Sanders focused his get-out-the-vote efforts, holding rally after rally all weekend in the state’s college towns and urban centers, youth turnout is hovering around 15% according to Newsweek.
Support for Sanders has, it seems, fallen across the board. Last night in Michigan, Sanders pulled in fewer white voters and fewer male voters than he did in 2016, when he ran against Hillary Clinton, and the Vermont socialist took a beating among African-American voters who went overwhelmingly to Biden. Even if voters agreed with Sanders in principle, they didn’t necessarily cast a ballot for him, Newsweek says: “The majority of Democratic voters in Michigan said they prefer a candidate who can beat Trump rather than someone who agrees with them on major political issues by 57-38.”
As a way of closing, Sanders gave Biden a “preview” of what is to come on Sunday.
“Let me be very frank as to the questions that I will be asking Joe,” Sanders said. “Joe, what are you going to do for the 500,000 people who go bankrupt in our country because of medically related debt? And what are you going to do for the working people of this country and small business people who are paying on average 20 percent of their incomes to health care?”
Sanders may not get the chance, though, to address his top competitor directly. On Sunday, the candidates will take questions from moderators and members of the public in a more casual setting than in the first ten debates.