Energized liberals fear Warren, Sanders can’t beat Trump

Steve Peoples
Associated Press

Berlin, N.H. – They want fundamental change: single-payer health care, debt-free college, environmental protections and the end of big money in politics.

But as liberal voters size up the two leading candidates running on those values – Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – one question is impossible to avoid: Can either one beat President Donald Trump?

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., greet each other before the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates in Detroit.

Even some of the most passionate liberals are not sure Sanders or Warren is up to the task, knowing that Trump will use anything he can to tear them down: age, gender, personal background and, of course, their progressive plans to transform health care and the U.S. economy.

The electability question is coloring the high-stakes competition between the dueling New England senators, who are allies on policy, but stand in each other’s way in the broader fight to unify their party’s energized liberal base. And as they struggle for answers, voters must confront a sense of deep uncertainty that has settled over the party’s far-left flank.

Richard Poulin, a 74-year-old gift shop owner, stood in the back of a Sanders rally with a Bernie sticker on his chest. He hosted Sanders’ local campaign headquarters four years ago but admitted he was considering abandoning the fiery Vermont senator in favor of Warren.


“I see her gaining and I like the forward movement,” said Poulin, citing Warren’s recent rise in the polls. “She has a chance. That’s what I like.”

Still, he may not vote for either one. He said he would reluctantly support the more moderate front-runner, Joe Biden, if he ultimately has the best chance to win.

Voters like Poulin are hardly unique.

Democrats of all ideological persuasions consistently say their top priority is defeating Trump. And the Sanders and Warren campaigns are aware that no policy plan or campaign trail promise will matter as much as their ability to convince Democratic voters they can do that.

Their challenge is one of perception more than reality.

Multiple recent polls suggest that both Warren and Sanders would defeat Trump in a head-to-head matchup. Yet very few Democratic voters actually believe that’s the case.

Just 9% of Democrats and those leaning Democratic think Warren has the best chance to win a general election, according to a poll released last week by Quinnipiac University. The numbers are only slightly better for Sanders: 12% believe he can beat Trump.

At the same time, 49% say Biden has the best chance to win.

Warren has been locked in a battle for second place with Sanders recently, although a Fox News poll released this week shows her as the preferred choice of 20% of Democratic primary voters compared to Sanders’ 10%. Biden leads the pack, as he has the entire year, with 31%.