NEW YORK — In an interview with Yahoo News last Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., brushed off the possibility that he and Sen. Elizabeth Warren could split the progressive vote, creating an easy path for former Vice President Joe Biden to win the Democratic presidential primary.
As it stands now, polls show Sanders and Warren vying for second place behind Biden even though the combined bloc supporting the two progressives is larger than that of the ex-vice president.
Sanders and Warren have broadly similar platforms. While there are some differences between their approaches, they both support Sanders’s signature Medicare for All public health care plan, large increases in spending to fight climate change, and programs to cut student debt and expand affordable housing.
Biden has far more moderate positions, including a health care plan that would preserve private insurance and more modest spending to address climate change. And while Biden has called for increased education spending, unlike Warren and Sanders he hasn’t backed plans to make public colleges fully tuition-free and to eliminate large amounts of student debt. Sanders has said Biden doesn’t share his “vision” for the country.
Still, when asked about the possibility that having two progressive candidates will end up dooming them both, Sanders offered a one-word response.
“Nope,” he said.
“I think there is a political process, and people will make their own choices,” Sanders added. “But I’m feeling pretty good about the future.”
The Vermont senator stressed that he is “confident” about his organization in key early states.
“We’re a long way away from Election Day in Iowa. I think it’s about five months, and a lot can change. All I can say is that given the grassroots movement that we have in Iowa, in New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, California, I’m feeling pretty good that we’re going to win those states,” he said.
While Sanders and Warren share similar policy goals, there are some indications their bases of support are quite different, and if one dropped out, the supporters wouldn’t necessarily migrate to the remaining candidate. But Sanders offered a message to any progressives who might be choosing between him and Warren.
When asked about the distinctions between the two, Sanders emphasized his record and role in pushing the Democratic Party to the left since his last run for president in 2016.
“What I would say is, if you look at the issues that folks are talking about today — not only candidates but people all over this country — that has a lot to do with my willingness four years ago to stand up to the political establishment, the economic establishment, the media establishment, and say, ‘You know what? Maybe we need policies and a government that represents all of us and not just wealthy campaign contributors,’” Sanders said.
While Warren is mounting her first presidential campaign and doesn’t have as long a political career as Sanders, she was a prominent advocate for reducing income inequality during her prior academic career. Since she was elected to the Senate in 2012, Warren has, like Sanders, pushed for dramatic expansions to public education and health care programs.
Sanders said he’s pleased other candidates are supporting aspects of his agenda, including universal health care, free public education and aggressive steps to fight climate change.
“These are issues that I talked about in a very aggressive way. I am proud that other candidates are coming onboard,” Sanders said. “But I think that if you check my record, I have a life of standing up to the very powerful special interests and fighting for working people.”
Yahoo News pressed Sanders on whether he was implying that he “paved the way” for Warren’s candidacy.
“Well, I don’t want to talk about Elizabeth Warren or anybody else; [it’s] not a question of paving the way. Everybody comes to their own views,” Sanders said. “All I can say is that for the last many decades, going back to when I was elected mayor of Burlington, my record has been standing up for working families, taking on powerful special interests and, in fact, achieving some real results.”
Sanders, who has the largest number of individual donors so far, went on to say he’s “proud of the record that I have right now in putting together the strongest grassroots movement … for a political campaign this country has ever seen.”
“That’s why I’m confident we’re going to win this election,” said Sanders.
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