Sanders Campaign Strategist On The Game Plan To Win It All

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A stunning upset last night in Michigan. Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton. He did it by the narrowest of margins, taking 50 percent of the vote to her 48. It’s a big momentum boost for Sanders, who had taken some heavy losses in the South, and did again yesterday in Mississippi. Where Clinton ruled. And of course, she’s way ahead in the delegate count. We looked to the Sanders campaign and the top Sanders strategist, Tad Devine, the day after a big upset win in Michigan.

Listen to the conversation above, and read a transcript below.

TOM ASHBROOK: How did you do it in Michigan, sir?

TAD DEVINE: Well, I think we fought really hard in Michigan. Bernie’s message of taking on a rigged economy- an economy that sends almost all the new wealth to the top and a rigged economy that’s held in place by a corrupt campaign finance system, I think resonated powerfully, as did his message on trade. Bernie Sanders has opposed, I think, every trade agreement that has come before the Congress while he’s been in there  for the last 25 years. He’s seen them as vehicles to export American jobs overseas. And I think I it was the opposition to trade  and that central economic message that resonated powerfully in Michigan.

TA: So, it worked for you but the polls  said and you know this very well that Clinton was up by 20 points on the eve of this thing. You’re quoted in Politico saying even a near would be pretty good. An outright win would be unbelievable. So what happened? We’ve got the message, but give us the math. What worked out for you here?

TD: Well, we looked at our  own polling and while I though the race was going to be close and I was not predicting were going to win, I thought we could get it down to single digits. I think what happened here, was the last 48 hours- the last, really, 3 days- a number of things happened.

Number one, I think Bernie Sanders had a very strong performance in the debate with Hillary Clinton. I think that a lot of people saw that in the debate- and they said, Oh, he was too aggressive, or he said things inappropriately to her, or something of that nature. I think quite to the contrary. He had a long and vigorous debate with her on the issue of trade and whether or not the trade policies, which she has supported in the past and he has opposed, were good for Michigan and America. And I think that really got through. I think he did a good job the next night we had an opportunity with a Town Hall meeting on Fox News, which a lot of people saw, as well.

I think his campaigning across the state- If you look at Hillary’s campaigning, a lot of it was concentrated in and around metropolitan Detroit. We campaigned all across the state of Michigan. Got a lot of people excited. I was with him at a rally in Ann Arbor the night before the elections, almost 6,000 people there and they were very excited about him. So, I think it was a combination of the  tactics we employed, and the message he delivered, and particularly his performance in the debate.

TA: What about the African American vote in Michigan, Tad?

TD: We were very pleased to see in Michigan the exit polls that Bernie is now up over 30 percent of support with African American voters, and if you go down the age spectrum with that with younger African American voters, he’s actually going toe to toe with her and winning almost as much support as she does.

So, we understand that if Bernie’s going to be the nominee of the party, we’re going to have to win more support from African American voters. I think in these early contests concentrated in the South, voters there know Hillary Clinton well. She was the First Lady of Arkansas for many years, it’s a state that abuts many others in the South. They were comfortable with her and her record, but I think as we move through this process and voters, African American voters, Latinos, other voters in this process get to know Bernie Sanders’ record - I think with African American voters in particular, his activism in the Civil Rights Movement, his record of support for issues they care about in Congress, and his agenda to empower people and to take on injustice in our society, I think it’s going to resonate powerfully, and I think we’ll continue to win more and more support.

TA: Trade was big. It was huge. The other person on the trail who is talking very critically about U.S. trade deals is Donald Trump. There’s speculation that if it comes down to Clinton-Trump- I know that’s not where you’re aiming- but that Trump may actually take some of that same sentiment that anti-free trade deal and use it against Clinton if she’s the Democratic flag bearer.

TD: I think that’s a legitimate concern. Trump is very unorthodox in his positions on a broad range of issues. He does not conform to the Republican orthodoxy on trade and other issues as well. And I think if he goes into states like Michigan, or his home state of New York, and begins to deliver two things: Number one, an issue of economics, particularly centered on trade.  And number two- and I think this is even a bigger threat if Hillary is the nominee of the party- if Trump goes in and says listen, I am not beholden to special interests. I do not take their money. That is one of the reasons why Bernie is succeeding, and that’s why he against Trump would be a much better candidate. Hillary is going to really be vulnerable on those attacks on trade and also on the attacks of taking special interest money to fund her campaign.

TA: We’ve got callers for you here from Sanders territory. Howard, you’re on with Tad Devine.

CALLER HOWARD: You know, I really do think Bernie has a way better chance than Hillary. And it’s not about all her political baggage, and it’s not about her likability, and flip-flopping and all that. What it’s about is that she hasn’t created the intensity, and more importantly she’s not getting the turnout that Trump is getting and that Bernie would get in the general election.

TA: Tad, take us through this delegate count. I mean, two things: Bernie said last night the rest of the map looks favorable to him, so take us through that map and work with us on the delegate count because Hillary has a lot more delegates  stacked up than Bernie Sanders at this point. How do you make it work, as Sanders’ strategist?

TD: Well, first let me say I agree with Howard. I think he’s absolutely right about the enthusiasm and turnout and that’s the key to this election.  You know, in terms of winning the delegates, she does have an enormous advantage. And on the Democratic side, we have a system of proportional representation that makes it hard to win delegates in large numbers. But we believe we can, and here’s how: we’re gonna have a bunch of contests next week in some big states. There’s gonna be a lot of delegates on the table, we’re gonna compete- I don’t know if we’re gonna win most of those states, but I do think we will win delegates in all of them and try to add to our total. Then we’re gonna start moving into territory where I think Bernie Sanders is going to do well- places like Washington State, places like Wisconsin. I think we can actually showdown with Hillary Clinton in her own state of New York. You know, Bernie is a guy who grew up in Brooklyn, he’s got an incredible story to tell about his own life experience there. He’s sopmeone  I think upstate New Yorkers know well from being close to Vermont and the Burlington media market, so we gain some advantage from that. I think his message is going to resonate powerfully in New York.

And then we’re gonna go through a number states of Pennsylvania and other northeastern states and then we’re gonna move on to places like California and New Jersey. You know one of the advantages we have in this process in terms of catching up is that in 2008, California, New Jersey and New York were all on Super Tuesday. This year, it’s very late in the process. NY is in mid April, CA and NJ are in June. So, we’ve got time to catch up. And I think if we do catch up and we beat her in a lot of these states across the nation. I think Democratic super delegates are going to step back. They’re gonna look at Bernie vs. Trump in the polls, and they’ll ask themselves a very serious question-  who will be the strongest candidate to take on the Republicans and win the general election? And I think when that happens, when we do what we need to do and catch up in delegates, I think Bernie will win the nomination.

TA: Does a Sanders victory count on super delegates jumping ship? Leaving the Clinton column and going to Sanders. Do you have to woo them over?

TD: Yes. We’re gonna have to win support. But remember in 2008, Barack Obama won support of over 120 super delegates who previously had endorsed Hillary Clinton. They came to him during the course of the process before the convention. So, there is precedent for large scale super delegate movement. And I think we can do it here. It’s gonna take some time. It’s not gonna be easy. He’s gonna have to work hard and earn it. But I think if we do this right those super delegates will do the right thing and support Bernie if he proves he’s the strongest candidate in this race.

TA: So, that means victory is not just on winning these primaries, but on persuading super delegates that he would be the stronger candidate against he Republican- perhaps Donald Trump.

TD: It is. And you know, we’re gonna have to win that argument. And not just win these primaries and caucuses coming up. And I think we can win the argument. If you look at almost all of the polls that you’ve seen in recent weeks, Bernie is the strongest candidate against Trump. And against Cru,  for example. Bernie was beating Ted Cruz by 17 points, and Hillary Clinton was losing to Ted Cruz.  So, I think the polling in the week ahead looks that way. I think super delegates in the Democratic party are gonna – they want to win. They understand the consequences of what’s at stake in this election. Perhaps another Supreme Court seat or two in the next president’s term.

TA: What about African Americans? Do you have to change the profiles of turnout and vote among the African American community in this country to have a prayer?

TD: Absolutely. The African American constituency is one of the most important core constituencies of the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders, I believe, will be able to appeal to African Americans across this country as they get to know him. I know sometimes people say you’ve been out there for months, why don’t you have support yet? Well, it’s a big country and it’s gonna take a long time. But I think if he can be successful and if he has the opportunity to deliver and acceptance speech at the Convention. If he has an opportunity to campaign in through the country in the fall, his message will resonate powerfully in that community and I think we will win a lot of support and I’m sure we will helped in that effort by people like Obama.

This segment aired on March 9, 2016.


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