Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley will have their last televised opportunity this evening to pitch their vision of a post-Obama America to Iowans. At a “town hall” hosted by CNN at Drake University in Des Moines, the candidates will appear on stage, one at a time, to answer questions ranging from inequality to electability. The event is particularly crucial to Sanders (I-VT), who is trying to maintain his campaign’s momentum as the primary season officially begins.
For her part, Clinton will continue to present herself as President Barack Obama’s successor, with her stances on gun control and healthcare, as well as many other issues where her views mirror his. Despite a recent surge of support for Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton still maintains a sizable lead in national polls.
Clinton has styled herself as a mainstream Democrat who, with her decades of experience, knows what needs to be done and what is possible. Sanders has positioned himself as a political outsider and social justice crusader who believes that nothing will change without a radical break from the “establishment.” His calls for a political revolution are not empty rallying cries.
To her credit, Clinton has taken on many of the causes important to liberals. But in her traditional approach, the Clinton campaign has focused on a decades-old measure of support, the political endorsement — and she has received hundreds of them. In fact, she may have more endorsements for her candidacy than all the Republican nominees combined. She also depends on super PACs for funding, as do almost all Republican candidates.
Sanders, on the other hand, has run an unorthodox campaign that has relied on small cash donations and endorsements from people other than politicians. He received not only the endorsement of Killer Mike, a member of rap duo Run the Jewels and a politically active gangster rapper, but those of Dr. Cornel West and Glenn Greenwald, two personalities unequivocal in their criticism of the American political system and whose causes are much more popular among younger, more liberal voters.
These differences have translated into heated exchanges between the two sides. Last week Sanders accused Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization frequently targeted by Republicans for providing abortions in addition to health services, and the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT civil rights advocacy group, of being “part of the establishment” after the groups endorsed Clinton. Former President Bill Clinton responded by saying, “Hillary Clinton does not consider Planned Parenthood a member of the establishment.” More than anything, Sanders most likely felt betrayed by the two organizations given he was a champion of abortions and gay marriage long before most politicians had the courage to do so.
Tonight the pressure is on again for Sanders to articulate his positions and policies clearly and attract an even wider coalition of Democrats to his camp. Clinton only needs to provide a solid performance, since she has a better chance of winning in Iowa, stopping Sanders at just the second primary in South Carolina, and proceeding to her place as the Democrats’ inevitable candidate. But as we are learning in this election cycle, nothing is guaranteed.