POLITICS

Bernie Sanders Suffered A Big Blow. Here's His Plan Going Forward.

Expect a change in touch, but not in intensity of focus.

Despite a series of costly defeats on Tuesday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) remains committed to seeing the Democratic primary through to the convention, his top aide, Tad Devine, told The Huffington Post.

"We are nowhere near the end game," Devine declared. "The end game is going to come at the end."

That doesn't mean losses in Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and Pennsylvania won't prompt shifts in strategy and rhetoric. With a narrower path to the nomination, Devine acknowledged that Sanders, who did win Rhode Island on Tuesday, would likely place even more focus on policy prescriptions and a vision for the future of the Democratic Party, and less on personal contrasts with Hillary Clinton.

"I don't think we will stop talking about the issues. I think a lot of the rhetoric that was more heated, in New York for example, was the product of that white-hot primary atmosphere," said Devine, suggesting that the upcoming contests won't be so vivifying.

The Sanders campaign had, earlier Tuesday, sent a fundraising email that included a picture of Clinton along with Donald Trump, with a note that the businessman had praised her in the past. Asked if he thought that email went beyond where the forthcoming focus of the campaign would be, Devine responded: "I guess so."

With a pledged delegate deficit that is basically insurmountable, Sanders is under growing pressure to soften his barbs at Clinton in upcoming contests. But Devine said he has had no conversations with political supporters who have suggested that Sanders leave the race or even moderate his attacks. If anything, the sense of the campaign is that the Democratic Party writ large benefits from Sanders staying in the race (as more voters would be compelled to register to vote for him) and that the senator owes it to his supporters to run through the California primary to give them an opportunity to support his platform.

"It is not just a campaign. It is a cause. It is something much bigger than him," said Devine. "We want to make sure that anybody who has been part of this campaign, the contributors and volunteers, has a chance to vote for him and what he represents."

Devine didn't concede defeat, either. He said the campaign remained committed to trying to persuade so-called superdelegates to change their support from Clinton by arguing that Sanders would be a stronger general election candidate. The argument would be aided, Devine said, by the upcoming primary calendar. Primaries in Indiana and California (which allow independents to vote), along with demographically favorable states like Kentucky and Oregon, would yield victories for Sanders and change the conversation heading into the convention, Devine predicted.

"I understand her lead is significant and it is real, but I also think that between now and then … we have an opportunity to win a lot more states and delegates and that's our focus," said Devine. "We are going to go through a period of several weeks now where there is just great opportunities to win."

But a separate statement issued by the Sanders campaign late Tuesday was notable in that there was no overt mention from the senator that he remained in the race to be the nominee. Instead, the statement talked about giving voters the right to "determine who they want as president and what the agenda of the Democratic Party should be."

Devine did allow himself to address the hypothetical of a Sanders and Clinton rapprochement at the end of the primary process. While Sanders has pledged to support Clinton as the nominee, Devine suggested that it wouldn't be a simple or even an orderly process.

Looking back to 2008, Devine argued that the philosophical distance between Clinton and then-Sen. Barack Obama was narrower than what exists between Clinton and Sanders now. And while the Sanders campaign was happy to hear Clinton pledged her commitment to some of the causes that he has pushed during this campaign, Devine made it clear that his boss wanted to see something firmer.

"I think we need to understand that it isn't sort of a political divide. It really is a substantive difference and these policies are very meaningful to him as a candidate, and that needs some recognition," Devine said. "I'm not saying everything Bernie says she has to say verbatim. But there does need to be an acknowledgement ... that maybe we do need universal college for Americans."

Asked what a firm commitment looks like, Devine replied: "We are a long way off from that."

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