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Bernie Sanders 2.0, big strengths, big challenges

Bernie Sanders 2.0, big strengths, big challenges
  (LAT)

Sen. Bernie Sanders entered the Democratic presidential race this week and immediately showed off one of his biggest strengths — the power of his small-donor base, which allowed him to raise $5.9 million in his campaign’s first day.

Last time, that fundraising prowess with small donors allowed Sanders to stay in the race all the way to the Democratic convention. This time, his strategists hope the money will help him overwhelm rivals in key states, including California.

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But Sanders faces big challenges in trying to repeat what he did in 2015 and 2016: He’ll have competition for voters on the left, and many who cast ballots for him last time did so more in opposition to Hillary Clinton than in support of him. They’ll have other choices this time around.

SANDERS 2.0

Sanders’ candidacy will test how much movement toward the left has actually taken place among Democratic voters, as Evan Halper wrote.

The Vermont senator jumped into the race with the same message he offered four years ago — indeed, some of the same proposals he has championed for decades: Medicare for All, free college tuition, and radical change for an economic system he regards as rigged for the rich.

Democrats have clearly moved some ways toward his positions. Support for universal health care that goes further than the Affordable Care Act, for example, has now become a party litmus test.

But a large ideological space exists between Sanders and the cautious centrism that Clinton embraced in 2016. Several candidates, including Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, have stepped into that space, offering their own bold economic proposals. At least one of them likely will compete strongly with Sanders for the backing of liberal voters.

Others, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is expected to enter the race next month, have staked out positions as progressive pragmatists, saying the party shouldn’t hitch itself to proposals such as Medicare for All that they see as impractical or unachievable. States where one or both of them could be strong — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan — were key for Sanders last time.

But the two biggest challenges for Sanders go beyond that ideological competition.

One centers on a subject he often shied away from talking about in 2016 — race. Sanders did relatively poorly with minority voters, especially African Americans, in most primaries last time around. In a party that’s increasingly non-white, that’s not a tenable path.

He’s promised to work harder at wooing black voters this time, but he’ll also face much stiffer competition.

Moreover, a significant share of Sanders’ vote in 2016 — in places as varied as Staten Island in New York, West Virginia, Indiana and Oklahoma — didn’t come from voters on the left, but from conservatives and moderates who showed up in Democratic primaries primarily to vote against Clinton.

Nate Silver, using data from the massive Cooperative Congressional Election Study, estimated that #NeverHillary vote at about one-quarter of Sanders’ total in the 2016 primaries. If those voters show up at all this time around, they won’t necessarily be casting ballots for Sanders.

WARREN UNVEILS A NEW PLAN

Warren held a rally in Glendale this week — a sign that she too intends to compete in California. While there, as Melanie Mason wrote, she previewed an ambitious new childcare plan that she would finance by using some of the proceeds from her proposed new wealth tax on those with fortunes greater than $50 million.

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The plan would aim to vastly increase the amount of available childcare and make it free to families earning $50,000 a year or less. For all others, the cost would be on a sliding scale set at no more than 7% of their income. The pricetag would come to about $70 billion per year.

That’s roughly equivalent to the cost of Sanders’ free college plan. It’s also slightly smaller than the increase Congress and the Trump administration gave to military spending over the last two years.

While the Massachusetts senator rallied supporters in Southern California, several of her rivals campaigned in her backyard — in New Hampshire. The state, which traditionally holds the nation’s first primary, was bumper-to-bumper with presidential candidates over the Presidents Day holiday, Janet Hook reported.

Harris, who made her first visit there, and others all vowed to compete in New Hampshire. Despite those pledges, however, many Democratic activists are betting that most candidates will downplay the state and allow it to become a showdown between Sanders and Warren, the two New Englanders in the race. If so, that could boost the importance of other early contests in Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada.

TRUMP REPEATS A NEW THEME

“The socialists are coming” doesn’t have quite the same ring as “Make America Great Again,” but President Trump has been issuing that warning regularly, starting with his State of the Union speech.

This week, he hit the theme heavily in a speech in Florida where he warned against socialism and denounced Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, Tracy Wilkinson reported.

THEY’RE WATCHING YOU

Campaigns have new tools for tracking down and trying to influence potential voters, and the opportunities to invade your privacy have vastly increased, as Halper wrote.

Many of the new techniques involve what’s called geo-fencing, which allows organizers of an event — a rally, for example — to put an electronic fence around a venue and capture the unique electronic signatures of every phone inside it. Data brokers can sell that information to campaigns, which can then use it to track anyone who attended and beam ads to them.

Another technique takes advantage of new smart-television systems which monitor the programs a person watches. That information too can be sold to data brokers.

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IT’S MUELLER TIME

Well, almost. The two-year investigation led by Robert Mueller seems close to wrapping up, having brought charges against 34 people and won convictions or guilty pleas from some of Trump’s top advisors, including his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

Mueller is widely expected to file a final report with Atty. Gen. William Barr sometime in the next few weeks, as Chris Megerian and Del Wilber wrote.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein, who has overseen the investigation since he appointed Mueller, has announced his plans to leave the department, and Trump has announced his replacement, Jeffrey Rosen, who previously worked in the same large law firm as Barr and is now Deputy Secretary of Transportation.

But as Megerian wrote, the end of the Mueller investigation is hardly the end of Trump’s legal problems. The president likely faces investigations and possible criminal jeopardy for the rest of his presidency.

In the meantime, don’t expect to see Mueller’s report right away — and maybe not ever, at least in full form.

Two decades ago, Ken Starr, the independent counsel investigating President Clinton, issued a long, detailed and salacious public report. But Starr was operating under very different legal rules than those governing Mueller’s probe. The rules now call for Mueller to give his report to Barr, who will then decide what to make public and what to turn over to Congress.

Expect to see a prolonged, loud public fight over disclosure, with Democrats in the House demanding that Mueller’s findings be turned over to them and White House lawyers resisting.

Meanwhile, the prosecutions continue. On Thursday, federal judge Amy Berman Jackson tightened a gag order on Roger Stone, the former political advisor to Trump. He faces charges of lying to investigators and witness tampering.

His latest trouble began when he posted an image on Instagram showing the judge with what appeared to be crosshairs of a spotting scope by her head. In court, he apologized. The judge wasn't mollified and said any further violations would result in jail time, Megerian reported.

IMMIGRATION BACKLOG SOARS

The Trump administration issued a plan in 2017 aimed at dramatically shrinking the backlog of cases in immigration court. But as Molly O’Toole reported, the effort has failed dramatically, and the caseload has grown 26%.

THE REST OF THE WEEK’S NEWS

Trump didn’t admit this, but as David Cloud reported, the order he signed this week on his proposed Space Force represents a significant scaling back in response to pressure from Congress.

In advance of next week’s planned summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un of North Korea, Wilkinson looked at what’s happened since their first summit last spring in Singapore. Progress toward denuclearization has been scant, she reports.

North Korea has yet to even provide an inventory of its arsenal, let alone commit to getting rid of it.

The administration officially confirmed it has ended fuel-economy talks with California, Anna Phillips reported. Sometime later this year, administration officials will formally adopt their plan for scaling back fuel economy rules. That will set the stage for a long court battle.

Trump has long argued that libel laws should be eased to a make suits against the press easier to pursue. This week, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas chimed in with his agreement, saying the high court should revisit the landmark 1964 ruling which held that the First Amendment limits state libel laws.

Thomas was the only one of the nine justices to take that position, however, as David Savage wrote.

Separately, the high court unanimously ruled that the Constitution puts some limits on the power of state and local police to seize property. The ruling was by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her first since her recent cancer surgery.

LOGISTICS

That wraps up this week. Until next time, keep track of all the developments in national politics and the Trump administration at our Politics page and on Twitter @latimespolitics.

Send your comments, suggestions and news tips to politics@latimes.com.

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