But that’s not the point of this recollection. The name at the top of the ballot was never going to affect the rest of the District’s Democratic ticket. There was no serious Republican challenge to D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and other Democratic officeholders.
And this year will be no different. In this overwhelmingly Democratic city, the Democratic slate is safe, regardless of who tops the ticket.
But what about the rest of the country?
Let’s say Sanders comes out of July’s Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee as the party’s nominee. Will House and Senate Democrats in swing districts and red states view Sanders as standard-bearer with joy — or alarm?
Former senator Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), a supporter of former vice president Joe Biden, has an answer: If Sanders is the Democratic nominee, he will have a “very difficult time” beating President Trump and will pose a “serious threat to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ability to retain control of the House,” Axios reported.
Dodd’s assessment was echoed by Ami Bera (Calif.), co-chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline program, which raises funds to reelect Democratic House members. During an interview with BuzzFeed News this week, Bera said, “If Bernie Sanders is our nominee, it’ll make a lot of these Trump districts that we picked up extremely competitive and probably does put our House majority in jeopardy.”
The bleakest assessment came from Marshall Matz, a policy adviser for Sen. George McGovern’s 1972 presidential bid, who said that if Sanders is nominated, Democrats should expect the sort of landslide loss that McGovern suffered to President Richard M. Nixon. “He would not just lose but would lose badly,” Matz told the Stamford Advocate.
Other establishment Democrats also fear Trump will barnstorm battleground states that Democrats need to keep control of the House and regain the Senate, loudly branding Sanders a socialist — a label many voters find hard to swallow. Montana Sen. Jon Tester, who led Senate Democrats’ campaign arm in 2016, told the Associated Press, “I come from a state that’s pretty damn red. There is no doubt that having ‘socialist’ ahead of ‘Democrat’ is not a positive thing in the state of Montana.”
And Republicans, he cautioned, “are really good at making elections about who’s at the top of the ticket.”
Is Sanders an election-year disaster waiting to happen?
He makes no bones about who he is. “I am a socialist, and everyone knows that,” Sanders said in 1990 as a newly elected House member, in response to an ad seeking to tie him to Fidel Castro’s regime. But he said his brand of “democratic socialism has nothing to do with authoritarian socialism.”
Sanders fundamentally believes that the political system favors Wall Street, powerful corporations and billionaires. Nothing short of a political revolution is needed, he proclaimed as he launched his 2016 presidential bid to “transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally.”
He held those views before he was mayor of Burlington, Vt. — where, incidentally, he served pragmatically for eight years.
Millions of voters, based upon 2016 election results and current polling numbers, are ideologically aligned with Sanders. But for many of them, this affinity does not extend to the Democratic Party. A recent poll found that only 53 percent of Sanders voters will definitely support the eventual 2020 Democratic nominee if he doesn’t win.
So, yes, establishment Democrats are worried, and for good reason. Democrats don’t have a lock on the House. The reputable Cook Political Report rates only 181 House seats as solidly Democratic, with 35 more rated as leaning Democratic. But 18 seats currently held by Democrats are seen as toss-ups. You need 218 total for a majority. That’s not a lot of wiggle room.
Over in the Senate, Cook rates six Republican-held Senate seats as toss-up or only leaning GOP (plus one Democratic seat as leaning Republican). Democrats need to net four seats to take the majority outright.
Vulnerable congressional Republicans — as well as Trump — are no doubt rooting for a Sanders Democratic victory. Some are even trying to make it happen. There are GOP leaders in South Carolina calling on Republican voters to cast their ballots for Sanders in South Carolina’s Feb. 29 open primary.
Onlooking D.C. Democrats know their local candidates will be fine regardless of the nominee.
Still, they should be concerned as well. If Democratic convention delegates pick the wrong presidential candidate, the District will have Trump as a neighbor for four more years.
Read more from Colbert King’s archive.