Bernie Sanders is down by just 8 points in New Hampshire and has gained tremendous momentum in Iowa. If the Vermont senator wins both the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, the odds will favor him getting the Democratic nomination. What was once thought of as a long shot is becoming a reality, primarily because Bernie Sanders has energized his base while Hillary Clinton has been forced to defend against email and foreign donor scandals. However, this isn't the first time in recent history that a challenger to Clinton was once thought of as a long shot.
In 2008, Hillary Clinton finished third in Iowabehind Obama and John Edwards and eventually lost the Democratic nomination to the first African-American elected as president. This eventuality was once described as "the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen" by Bill Clinton, when the former president was asked about Obama's record and chances of winning the presidency. Even Hillary Clinton's "It's 3:00 am" advertisement, described by Harvard Professor of Sociology Orlando Patterson as having a "racist sub-message," couldn't prevent history from taking place and a more progressive electorate from deciding their own destiny at the ballot box.
Therefore, if you're a person who says, "I'd vote for Bernie Sanders, but he can't win," then compare the world in 2015 to another time period in American politics. Imagine in 1972, shortly after Nixon won reelection in a legendary landslide, that in 2015 The New York Times would read, Supreme Court Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide. Imagine just a decade ago, what you'd think about Strom Thurmond's son calling for the removal of the Confederate flag, or the Supreme Court ruling favorably on a national healthcare program. Even before Caitlyn Jenner, transgender Navy Seal Kristin Beck decided to run for Congress and Barney Frank came out publicly in 1987. Therefore, Bernie Sanders isn't George McGovern and this isn't 1972; Americans are willing to vote for any candidate they feel will make a positive change.
Dwindling symbols of the past and social advancements aren't the only hallmarks of this new era in American politics. In addition to President Obama being our first African-American president, William H. Frey of Brookings published a report titled Minority Turnout Determined the 2012 Election, highlighting profound demographic changes in the electorate:
What this tells me is that turnout will be less important for Democratic victory as demography changes in their favor, though they must maintain their strong voting margins among blacks, Hispanics and Asians. For Republicans, the latter projections show that they cannot count primarily on white support to take the White House. Even assuming high 2004 turnout rates and 2012 Republican voting margins for whites, they cannot win unless they also peel off more votes among minorities. In this regard, demography indeed becomes destiny.
Therefore, even if minorities vote at the same rate for any Democratic nominee, including Bernie Sanders, Republicans will still have an uphill battle for the White House in 2016.
He voted against the Iraq War, championed gay rights and other issues before they were popular, and works against unfair trade deals and Wall Street greed, so there's no denying the appeal of Vermont's senator to millions of voters. As for his appeal to minority voters, Professor Cornell West posted a message on Facebook stating, "Senator Bernie Sanders is one of the few elected officials who is fundamentally devoted to dealing with the plight of poor & working people." In contrast, Twitter grilled Hillary Clinton for waiting close to three weeks to address Ferguson, and Ebony published a piece titled, Is Hillary 'Ready' for Black Voters?.
As for the Electoral College and Bernie Sanders, a closer look at the numbers and the electoral map shows that Vermont's senator is indeed a pragmatic choice (no email scandals, voted consistently on progressive issues before they were popular, energized a base of Democratic supporters) for Democratic nominee. Also, Sanders has a better chance than Hillary of defeating Jeb Bush or any other GOP challenger. According to a POLITICO piece titled The 2016 Results We Can Already Predict, Democrats across the nation simply have to vote in a similar manner to 2012 for Sanders to win:
That leaves just seven super-swingy states: Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia, all of which backed Bush and Obama twice each, and Iowa and New Hampshire, which have voted Democratic in three of the last four elections.
For the Democrats, a victory in 2016 entails zero expansion of the blue map, merely the limiting of blue-to-red transformations. Assuming the lean, likely, and safe Democratic states remain loyal to the party, the nominee need only win 23 of the 85 toss-up electoral votes. And if a lean Democratic state such as Wisconsin turns red, it is relatively easy to replace those votes with one or two toss-ups.
On the other hand, Republicans must hold all their usual states plus find a way to stitch together an additional 64 electoral votes, or 79 if they can't hold North Carolina. To do this, the GOP candidate will have to come close to sweeping the toss-ups under most scenarios--a difficult task...
What gives Hillary Clinton a better chance of winning states like Ohio (Brookings has a study titled Did Manufacturing Job Losses Hold the Midwest Back) than Bernie Sanders? Unlike Sanders, Hillary was for the TPP and voters weary of China and Vietnam taking jobs away from Americans will think twice about Hillary Clinton.
Also, communities around the country hit by the repercussions of American counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where close to 7,000 Americans died, over 50,000 wounded in combat, and over 900,000 injured, will think twice about voting for Hillary Clinton after her Iraq War vote. Bernie Sanders, however, was on the right side of history with Iraq and Afghanistan, he's always against horrible trade agreements, supported gay marriage and marijuana legalization (Hillary was against even the decriminalization of marijuana not long ago) and championed a range of other issues.
In other words, the electoral map shows that Bernie Sanders is not only a realistic candidate for president, but his record on a number of issues speaks to a wide range of voters. If Democrats simply vote based on their value system (considering demographic shifts favor Democrats), Bernie Sanders can easily win the presidency. If they nominate Hillary Clinton out of despair, thinking this is still 1999, then email scandals and an Iraq War vote could mitigate any advantages a Democratic challenger has over Jeb Bush or another Republican.
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These aren't the days where Karl Rove can tap into a well of homophobia (Hillary was also against gay marriage at the time, stating "I don't support gay marriages, but I do support extending benefits to couples...") and gain millions of GOP votes by pushing for an amendment banning gay marriage. While "Moral Values" once carried GOP candidates into the White House, our outlook on social issues has changed as a nation. Americans care more about wealth inequality nowadays than marching with Mike Huckabee against the recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.
Ultimately, the only way for the GOP to win the White House in 2016 would be to campaign against a Democratic candidate who most resembles the Republican platforms on Wall Street, war, trade, and other issues. Hillary Clinton voted for Iraq, she's amassed $328,759,064 over the years (three of her top five donors are Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan), and she was against gay marriage up until recently. Bernie Sanders is actually the only hope Democrats have of winning the White House without a controversial email showing up days before people line up at the voting booths. While the GOP is ready for Hillary Clinton, Sanders represents a real challenge to union busting Scott Walker and Jeb Bush's support for the Iraq War. In today's political environment, Hillary Clinton winning the presidency is the "fairy tale," while Senator Bernie Sanders is the most realistic choice for president in 2016.