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Opinion It’s Bernie, not Biden, who has the electability problem

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday. (Alex Wroblewski/AFP/Getty Images)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has decided to attack Joe Biden, claiming that the moderate former vice president, who sits atop virtually every national poll with solid African American support, is somehow unelectable. His argument is that Biden couldn’t possibly be elected because he voted for the Iraq War nearly 20 years ago and for the North American Free Trade Agreement 27 years ago. There is no data to support that argument and, logically, one would think that running as a self-described socialist now is a much bigger electability problem than Biden’s past votes, but we do not have to speculate.

Some of Sanders’s signature, super-progressive issues play very poorly in swing states. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s Blue Wall Voices Project last year found that “large shares of swing voters in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin say stopping detainments at the U.S. border for people cross into the country illegally and a national Medicare-for-all plan are ‘bad ideas.’ ”

Moreover, polling over the last week or so shows clearly that picking Sanders would be a gamble. While he once was leading outside the margin of error in head-to-head matchups against President Trump, he is now losing or at best within the margin of error while Biden continues to be the most viable candidate against Trump.

Let’s look at Michigan. In late May, Biden and Sanders each led Trump by 12 points in a poll conducted by the Detroit News and WDIV-TV. Now, Biden leads Trump by seven percentage points, but Sanders is now only four points ahead of Trump — with a margin of error of four points.

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There has been less polling in Georgia, but according to the RealClearPolitics average, Biden is 1.6 points ahead of Trump while Sanders is one point behind. In Arizona, Biden tied Trump in the latest Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey and is only 0.3 points behind Trump in the RCP average. Sanders trails Trump by one point in the same PPP poll, but is five back in the RCP average. In Iowa, Biden was nearly three points behind Trump in the latest RCP average; Sanders was back five.

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What about Florida? Biden was the only candidate ahead of Trump in the last PPP poll and up two points in the RCP average. Sanders was behind Trump by five points in the Mason-Dixon and 2.3 points in the RCP average.

Virginia? Biden led Trump by four points in the latest Mason-Dixon poll and is ahead by more than 10 points in the RCP average. Sanders is down by six points to Trump in the Mason-Dixon and only up 3.5 points in the RCP average. Biden is up six points over Trump in the RCP average in New Hampshire; Sanders is up 3.5.

There is a similar story in Wisconsin where Biden led narrowly in the Marquette poll in December while Sanders trailed narrowly. In Texas, the December CNN poll had Biden behind by a single point, while Sanders trailed by seven points. In the Nevada Fox poll released Thursday, “Biden leads Trump by 8 points (47-39 percent) and has the only lead outside the poll’s margin of error.”

I’m not seeing states in which Sanders is showing he is more electable than Biden. The same is true on the national level. Biden leads in the RCP nationwide by 4.5 points, Sanders by 2.6 points. Sure, back in 2019, Sanders had a double-digit lead over Trump in some polls, but that has virtually disappeared.

How does Sanders get away with his electability claim? Well, for one thing, the media never challenges him on it. Sanders, unlike Biden and certainly Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), gets raked over the coals for misstatements. Sanders does not seem to get the same scrutiny.

At times, Sanders lets on that he is banking on creating a grass-roots movement to beat Trump in the general election. That would be nice but, so far, that has not yet emerged.

Moreover, given that Democratic victories are heavily dependent on African American turnout, it is difficult to see that Sanders, who gets a fraction of the African American support that Biden does, could turn out a bigger African American vote than Biden could. (Recall that in the 2016 primary, Hillary Clinton walloped Sanders among African American voters.) In the latest Fox News South Carolina poll, Biden gets 43 percent of the African American vote, Sanders just 12 percent.

And finally, remember that in the 2018 midterms, super-progressive candidates endorsed by Sanders did not flip a single House seat from red to blue. All those House seats were flipped by Biden-type moderates.

There will be a debate next week. That might be a good moment to quiz Sanders on where his claim to superior electability comes from. So far, there is not a whole lot — if any — evidence to back up his boast.

Read more:

Jonathan Capehart: Why Democrats are on better footing against Trump in 2020

Jennifer Rubin: Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq war and still won the primary. Can Joe Biden?

Sheila Bair: I am a Republican, and I hope the Democrats pick a candidate I can vote for

Jennifer Rubin: When will Bernie Sanders get the scrutiny that top-tier candidates deserve?