Sanders Seizes the Momentum from Clinton

In an astounding political turnabout, a new national poll of Democrats shows that Bernie Sanders is in a statistical tie with Hillary Clinton, erasing the more than 2-1 lead she held in the race for the Democrat presidential nomination as recently as January 1 of this year.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll, which sampled voter opinion after Clinton and Sanders finished the Iowa caucuses in a dead heat, had Clinton holding a narrow 3-point lead, 48 to 45 percent, nationwide, less than the poll’s 5 point margin of error.

Despite a huge effort by Clinton to beat expectations in New Hampshire, where Sanders consistently held a double digit lead, Clinton’s popularity continued to evaporate. Clinton has lost the support of two crucial voter groups, women and all voters under the age of 30, which were crucial to President Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012.

The tone of the debate between Clinton and Sanders sharpened noticeably after the Iowa caucuses, as Sanders supporters complained about a pro-Clinton bias in the vote count. The Democrat debate last Thursday night, their first one-on-one encounter following the withdrawal of former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, focused on Sanders’ challenge to Clinton’s claim to be a progressive despite having taken millions from the big banks and Wall Street. Clinton, in response, accused Sanders of seeking to tear down President Obama’s progressive accomplishments, starting with Obamacare, which Sanders wants to replace with a single payer socialized medical plan he calls “Medicare for all.”

Clinton still enjoys an advantage over Sanders nationally in name recognition. Nearly a quarter of all Democrats and two-fifths of Independents say they are not familiar enough with Sanders, whereas everyone has formed an opinion about Hillary Clinton.

That seems to be working to Sanders’ advantage by enabling him to win over voters who don’t agree with his socialist views, thanks to his ability to project genuine enthusiasm and honesty.

CLINTON NO LONGER THE MOST ELECTABLE DEMOCRAT

Sanders compares especially well to Clinton, who is viewed favorably by most Democrats but has lost the trust and respect of Independent and Republican voters. As a result, her claim to be the most electable of the Democrat candidates has been badly damaged.

On the Republican side, the same poll showed Donald Trump riding high with 40 percent support nationwide, followed by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas with 16 percent and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida with 13 percent.

Discounting the anticipated Sanders win in New Hampshire, the Clinton campaign boasted of its “firewall” in the South Carolina primary later this month. Their confidence is based upon the strong support Clinton enjoys from black voters. The Clinton campaign also claims the advantage in Nevada, thanks to organized labor leaders in the state and its Hispanic voters. Clinton also expects her to do well in the southern states, which will be voting on March 1.

That confidence has been shaken by the Reuters poll and other clear indications that Clinton’s support has been fading in the face of the enthusiastic response by young progressives to Sanders’ idealistic message.

A GENERATIONAL DIVIDE AMONG DEMOCRATS

On a national level, Democrat strategists have long hoped to win the presidency in November by reconstructing the coalition of groups which powered Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012. A major component of that coalition was young voters under age 30, an astounding 84% of whom supported Sanders in the Iowa caucuses. By contrast, Clinton won the support of 69% of voters over the age of 65.

Moreover, a huge majority of Democrat women in that age group in Iowa supported Sanders rather than Clinton.

After 24 years in the national spotlight, many younger women have come to view Clinton as just another member of the political establishment. They prefer to support female candidates who are more in tune with the needs and concerns of their generation.

Andrew Smith, the director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said, “She’s been there their entire life, and she’s yesterday’s news, but no one knew who Bernie Sanders was until recently.”

Young women do not feel obligated to vote for Clinton simply because she’s a woman. Some have argued that Sanders, with his calls to end income inequality and make college free, is addressing issues which are of greater concern to them.

SANDERS’ APPEAL TO YOUTH

Many young people strongly identify with the energy Sanders exudes, as well as his confidence in his ability to overcome all the odds and change the world.

They are not old enough to be put off by Sanders’ self-identification as a democratic socialist, which would have been instantly fatal to his candidacy during the Cold War. They admire him for being idealistic enough to refuse to take corporate contributions.

As one student at the University of New Hampshire put it, Sanders “owns himself. He follows his own moral compass,” as indicated by his call for a full scale political revolution needed to implement his radical progressive agenda.

A female student at the same college said, “Hillary is a good candidate, but Bernie has more passion.”

CLINTON CLAIMS TO BE A PRAGMATIC PROGRESSIVE

Since Clinton cannot compete with Sanders for progressive ideological fervor, she calls herself a practical progressive who can get things done by working within the system to achieve incremental measures of reform. She accuses Sanders of wanting to tear down the current corrupt system in order start over from scratch.

At last week’s Democrat debate, Clinton said, “I am not going to make promises I can’t keep. I am not going to talk about big ideas like single-payer [health insurance] and then not level with people about how much it will cost.”

At most of her campaign events, Clinton sounds like a robotic drone. That is her problem. Clinton boasts of her long political record, but it is also her main liability as a candidate. She has been deeply influenced by decades of back room wheeling, dealing and compromises which made her the “inevitable” Democrat candidate at the start of this campaign. In a political year dominated by outsiders and voter disgust with the political establishment, she is the ultimate insider in this race.

Her record also highlights the stark contrasts with Sanders’ political career, which is just as long as Clinton’s, but without the compromises that Clinton has made all along.

YOUNG PEOPLE ARE ANGRY AND SKEPTICAL

A young Clinton volunteer says most of her friends are Sanders backers because, “people our age are very angry. They don’t see a path forward, and Sanders has tapped into that.” They buy the Sanders argument that the American economy has been rigged by a corrupt campaign finance system dominated by big contributors against them.

At a student town hall at New England College, a young woman told Clinton that even though she supported her in 2008, she has more doubts about her candidacy, raised by unanswered questions about the Benghazi attack and the scandal over her decision to maintain and then erase the messages on her e-mail server.

“My concern is that your answer that nothing new was found in the Benghazi hearings continues to give me some doubts,” the woman said. “And everybody knows you can’t write 30,000 emails to your yoga instructor.”

Many students are attracted by Sanders’ plan to make tuition at public colleges and universities free. They are dissatisfied with Clinton’s response on this issue, which is a much more modest plan to reduce the interest charges on their student loans.

The trick for the Sanders campaign is to maintain the interest of his young supporters through election day and motivate them to go to polls and vote.

Young people historically do not vote in proportion to their numbers, while a much larger proportion of Democrat voters over the age of 45 tend to go to the polls.

CLINTON LOSING THE SUPPORT OF WOMEN

Another serious concern is Mrs. Clinton’s unexpected difficulty in attracting the support of older women, compared to her previous campaigns. It was highlighted by a CNN poll released the day before the New Hampshire primary which showed Sanders leading Clinton among all female voters by 8 points. That is a stunning turnaround from just a week earlier at the Iowa caucuses, in which Clinton beat Sanders among all women according to the entrance polls by 11 points.

In response, the Clinton campaign tried to refine its message toward women by bringing in aging heroes of the feminist revolution, including Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinim. Their claims that Clinton is being targeted by “the forces of sexism and anti-feminism,” as well as their caustic comments directed at women who support Sanders, probably did Clinton more harm than good.

On the Sunday before the primary, instead of promoting her message to New Hampshire voters who had not yet made up their minds, Clinton was defending Albright’s comments on national television, saying her “lighthearted but very pointed remark, which people can take however they choose,” was intended to “remind young people,” particularly, that the feminist struggle of her generation, “which many of us have been part of, is not over.”

The comment was an implicit admission by Clinton that eight years after this country elected its first black president, most liberal voters no longer view Clinton’s goal to become this country’s first female president as being of equal historic significance.

EVIDENCE THAT CLINTON SOLD OUT TO THE BANKS AND WALL STREET

Many young people also accept the Sanders assertion that by taking so much money from big banks and Wall Street, Clinton has sold them out.

Clinton’s response to those accusations in last week’s one-on-one debate was to accuse Sanders of sullying her reputation by saying that she represents the establishment. When Clinton challenged the assertion, Sanders cited the handsome speaking fees and millions of dollars of campaign contributions she has taken from Wall Street and the Goldman Sachs investment bank.

Clinton responded to Sanders icily, “I’ve tried to keep my disagreements over issues, as it should be. But time and time again, by innuendo, by insinuation, there is this attack that he is putting forth.

“I really don’t think these kinds of attacks by insinuation are worthy of you. And enough is enough. If you’ve got something to say, say it directly. But you will not find that I ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I have ever received… I think it’s time to end the very artful smear that you and your campaign have been carrying out in recent weeks.”

Clinton angrily denied Sanders’ insinuations that contributions she received while she was a senator influenced her votes. In response, the Sanders campaign distributed excerpts of a book by progressive economic reformer Senator Elizabeth Warren, which suggests that Clinton saw the Wall Street groups as her “constituency,” and worked for their benefit to modify a 2001 bill which changed the federal bankruptcy laws.

WHAT CONFLICT OF INTEREST?

At a televised CNN Town Hall event last week, the moderator asked Clinton why she accepted $675,000 for making 3 speeches at Goldman Sachs events, to which she shrugged and answered, “that’s what they offered,” as if it never occurred to her that if she ran for president, accepting such a handsome speaking fee from a leading investment bank would be seen as a conflict of interest.

Clinton claims that when she gave those speeches, she had no idea that she was going to run for president again, but that is not true. Ever since Obama embarrassed her by winning the 2008 nomination Clinton and her advisors had been plotting her political comeback, while warning off all likely competitors for the 2016 presidential nomination. The Clintons also used their family charitable foundation to cultivate their campaign fundraising contacts, and to keep her political team on the payroll so that it could hit the ground running as soon as this campaign cycle started.

CLINTON’S LUCRATIVE PUBLIC SPEAKING CAREER

Clinton was being deceptive by suggesting that the handsome speaking fees she received from Goldman Sachs came as a surprise. In fact, after she resigned as secretary of state, Clinton signed on with a talent agency to market her services and set a minimum fee of $200,000 for delivering a speech.

Before her lucrative speaking career was suspended following the announcement of her presidential candidacy last spring, Clinton was paid a total of about $21.5 million in speaking fees, out of which $9 million came from banks, insurance companies, hedge funds, private equity firms and real estate businesses. In 2013 alone, she received $1,675,000 from the Wall Street banks which had to be bailed out by the taxpayers during the 2008 financial crisis.

NO DISCOUNTS FOR EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS

In addition, Clinton did not offer any discounts for speeches at colleges. She was paid $300,000 to speak at UCLA, $275,000 to speak at the University of Buffalo, and $250,000 to speak at the University of Connecticut. One might be tempted to ask how many students at those colleges had to take out loans to cover her speaking fees which they are still trying to pay off. Clinton also spoke to Colgate University, the University of Miami and other private colleges, but we don’t know how much they paid her because as private institutions they are not required to disclose their records.

During the same Town Hall event, Sanders reminded viewers that Clinton is still taking huge amounts of money from the same corporate sources, saying, “I don’t know any progressive who has a super PAC and takes $15 million from Wall Street.”

According to a Washington Post analysis, Sanders actually understated the amount. Through December, the Clinton campaign and pro-Clinton super PACS, accepted a total of $21.4 million from Wall Street.

WHY WON’T CLINTON RELEASE HER SPEECH TRANSCRIPTS?

We do not know what Clinton told the executives from Goldman Sachs, because her standard speaking contracts required the sponsor to provide a stenographer to transcribe her speeches and then turn over the transcripts for her exclusive use.

When asked at last Thursday’s debate whether she would release the transcripts of her Goldman Sachs speeches, Clinton hedged her answer, saying, not quite honestly, “I don’t know the status, but I will certainly look into it.” The next day, her campaign adviser Joel Benenson told reporters that he didn’t “think voters are interested in the transcripts of her speeches.”

During a Sunday news interview program, when she was asked again to release the transcripts, she introduced an impossible condition, the demand that any other presidential candidate “who’s ever given a speech to any private group under any circumstances release them. . . at the same time,” adding, “These rules need to apply to everybody.”

Speaking on another Sunday news interview program, Sanders said that the release of Clinton’s speeches is “ultimately her decision. But I think it would be a positive thing for the American people to know what was said behind closed doors to Wall Street.”

Some reporters have raised the obvious question: what did Clinton tell the executives at Goldman Sachs that she doesn’t want released? Some speculate that her remarks might include “smoking gun” evidence that while she was in government service, she had worked for the interests of her generous private benefactors. Others suggest that even if there is no such smoking gun evidence in those transcripts, her credibility as a progressive could be still hurt by the typical introductory remarks on such occasions which would reveal her longstanding personal ties to the wealthy titans of Wall Street. They are depicted by the progressive movement as the 1%, the arch enemies of the other 99% of Americans who are being exploited by a corrupt political and economic system.

WHY IS WALL STREET GIVING CLINTON SO MUCH MONEY?

In criticizing Clinton for accepting so much money from Wall Street, Sanders leaves no doubt about the motivation. “There is a reason why these people are putting huge amounts of money into our political system,” Sanders said. “It is undermining American democracy.”

Sanders said that he was not impugning Clinton’s integrity by pointing out the millions she has accepted from Wall Street. He added that, “There’s never been a politician in history who said ‘that money influences me’. . . [but] the American people know better.”

Many mainstream Democrats who are opting to support Sanders have told reporters that they have been turned off by the realization that since she and her husband left the White House, Clinton has become part of the privileged class of the super-rich. In becoming part of that system, she has lost touch with the concerns of ordinary people.

Clinton’s murky connections to Wall Street have also reinforced the impression within her own party that she is not totally honest and trustworthy. The entrance polls at the Iowa caucuses show that more than 80 percent of participating Democrats who said that honesty is the most important quality in a presidential candidate opted to support Sanders.

CLINTON’S FALSE CLAIM OF ECONOMIC PROPHECY

While refusing to disclose the content of her Goldman Sachs speeches, at last week’s debate, Clinton claimed that she was condemning the excesses of the big banks and Wall Street while she was still a senator from New York.

“What I want people to know is I went to Wall Street before the [2008] crash. I was the one saying you’re going to wreck the economy because of these shenanigans with mortgages. I called to end the carried interest loophole that hedge fund managers enjoy. I proposed changes in CEO compensation.”

These claims came as news to financial reporters like Megan McArdle who were covering financial news at the time. None of them remember her as a fiery crusader against the financial industry. Upon reviewing the public record of Clinton’s speeches and proposals from the era, McArdle found no evidence to back Clinton’s claim that she had given timely advance warning about the looming economic apocalypse.

She did complain about banks granting subprime mortgages to consumers who couldn’t afford them, but she was hardly the first to call for a crackdown on irresponsible lending by mortgage brokers, aided by the rating agencies and non-bank lenders. Her demand for more transparency and oversight of risky derivative investment vehicles was tempered with a call to find, “a sensible middle ground between heavy-handed regulation and a hands-off approach to a risk that can hurt the innocent, as well as the sophisticated buyer.”

By the time Clinton spoke out, the underlying financial problems were already apparent, including the real estate bubble and the collapse of the subprime mortgage market. She did not issue her plan for tighter financial regulation until late March 2008, while she was running for president against Barack Obama, and after Bear Stearns had already collapsed.

Even though Clinton cannot be forced to disclose the transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs, she cannot get away with trying to rewrite the history of the financial crisis, nor can she substantiate her current claim to have urged reforms on Wall Street after having foreseen and warned against the Great Recession in advance.

CLINTON ACCUSES SANDERS OF TAKING WALL STREET MONEY

Clinton’s latest response to complaints by Sanders about the millions she has accepted from Wall Street is to claim, “This is an effort by the Sanders’ campaign to basically say, anybody who’s ever taken a donation, not just from Wall Street, if you take it to the natural conclusion, from anybody, is bought and paid for. That is absolutely untrue.”

On Monday, Mrs. Clinton made headlines claiming that Sanders, too, had received $200,000 worth of contributions from Wall Street firms to help his 2006 senatorial campaign in Vermont. In fact Sanders did accept that amount of support from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC), and it is true that the funds were partially provided by donations from Wall Street. But that $200,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to the huge amounts which Clinton accepted from Wall Street over the years personally and for her political campaigns.

Clinton added that Sanders had not been influenced by the support from the DSCC, and then claimed that neither has she done anything wrong by accepting more than $20 million for her current presidential campaign from the same Wall Street establishment.

Despite those large contributions, the Clinton campaign has now been overtaken by Sanders in the crucial fundraising battle. As a result, the Sanders campaign now has the financial resources it needs to survive the next few primaries, which Clinton is expected to win, and continue the battle deep into the electoral calendar when the primaries in the larger industrial states will give Sanders the advantage again.

Many of Clinton’s large contributors are already maxed out, having reached the legal limit as to how much they can give to her campaign. But Sanders can go back to his 3 million small donors again and again in the months ahead because their average donation is only $27.

CLINTON TURNS LEFT ON CLIMATE CHANGE

In an effort to keep up with President Obama’s latest initiative to reduce global warming, Clinton expressed her support this week or Obama’s declaration of a 3-year moratorium on new coal mining leases issued by the Department of Interior.

The moratorium is another example of Sanders’ growing influence. In December, he introduced a Senate bill to ban all fossil fuel development on public lands which is believed to have prompted Obama’s action on coal leases.

However, Clinton has yet to join Sanders’ call for a federal ban on all hydraulic fracking to extract oil and natural gas, which most legal authorities believe is beyond federal jurisdiction because most fracking takes place on privately owned land.

CLINTON STILL VULNERABLE ON HER E-MAIL SERVER

Meanwhile, the FBI investigation into Clinton’s e-mail server continues, as speculation grows over whether she will be indicted for deliberately mishandling classified information which was found by the State Department in at least 1,600 of the 30,000 e-mails which Clinton turned over last year.

An analysis of the case by former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton reveals the serious legal and security questions raised by Clinton’s actions.

First and most obvious, Clinton violated the fundamental principle of keeping business and personal communications separate, apparently in an effort to deny access to some of the information on the server to the federal government.

Second, Clinton made no effort to get permission from State Department security officials to “sign off” on her maintaining a private server for departmental business communications. Bolton adds that it is hard to believe that these officials were unaware that Clinton was managing her own e-mail outside of the departmental networks, and wonders why they did not object.

Clinton claims that she never originated any of the secret information found on her e-mail server. But there was so much of it, including some messages which contained top secret content, it is hard to believe that she was totally unaware of its existence and legal significance.

Clinton served for six years on the Senate Armed Services committee, where she saw large amounts of classified information. She also signed a standard government non-disclosure agreement which clearly explained that she was responsible for guarding classified information in her position, whether it was “marked or unmarked.”

POLITICAL INFLUENCE IN CLINTON’S CASE

Bolton’s conclusion is that State Department officials have been trying to cover up or minimize the importance of the numerous security breaches for which Clinton and her aides have been responsible through the use of her private e-mail server and other violations of standard departmental security procedures.

It is the responsibility of the FBI to get to the bottom of the scandal and recommend the appropriate legal action against Clinton for the security breaches. There is generally a high level of confidence in the professionalism and independence of the FBI investigators, as well as that of James B. Comey, the director of the FBI who served as a Deputy Attorney General in the Justice Department during the Bush administration.

But once the FBI has made its recommendation, it will be up to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the Obama administration to decide whether to act on the evidence and file criminal charges for mishandling classified information against Clinton, despite the fact that she is running to become the next president.

TIME FOR A SPECIAL PROSECUTOR

Republicans agree that Lynch compiled a good record during two stints since 1999 as the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, but many are still skeptical that she will be able to resist the intense political pressure in Clinton’s case.

Last week, the second ranking Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn, called for the appointment of a special counsel to take over Clinton’s case, “because of the conflict of interest by asking Attorney General Lynch to investigate and perhaps even prosecute somebody in the Obama administration.”

Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that the appointment of a special prosecutor is the only way to reassure the country that the decision on whether to prosecute her will be made, “without regard to any political considerations.”

So far, the Justice Department has rejected the requests, claiming that Clinton’s case “does not meet the criteria for the appointment of a special prosecutor.”

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