The final image of the final Democratic presidential debate before the first votes in the 2020 nomination contest was Bernie Sanders, waving to Elizabeth Warren. Certainly, the Vermont senator did not want to deal with the Massachusetts senator accusing him of lying about her on national television, when Sanders said he had not told Warren that he believed a woman could not be elected president. But Sanders was not just moving away from Warren. He was also trying to get back to the fight he wants to choose in the last few days before Iowa's caucuses: with Joe Biden.
The former vice president's resilience at the top or in the early polls was the surprise of the campaign, and his rivals are surprisingly reluctant to challenge Biden directly. Partly because they think their leadership will not last, and partly it has been a strategic choice, based on the belief that voters view Democratic intramural disputes as helping President Donald Trump – and based on the only attempt to criticize Biden. "Kamala Harris tried and it didn't work," says a consultant to a former candidate. “Because nobody doesn't like Biden personally, even if they disagree with him about politics. And in a multicandidate field, the attacker doesn't always get the benefit – even if he scores points against Biden, support goes to someone else. "
But with Iowa caucuses approaching and four contenders in close contention, Sanders' campaign launched the multiple attack it had been preparing for some time, sharply contrasting his man's record with that of the leader. “The 2002 vote in the Iraq war was an example where I think Bernie Sanders has a history of fighting for the right thing at the right time in the first instance, not in the second, third, fourth or fifth, as the case is with Joe Biden ”, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir told me in early January. “Cutting Social Security versus expanding Social Security. Bankruptcy law – Biden supports itself, makes student debt and medical debt relief difficult, and Bernie Sanders is opposed. There are a whole series of them. The same week, a senior consultant at Sanders retweeted a misleading video clip, where Biden appeared to praise Paul Ryan's plan to cut Social Security benefits. The articles published by Alina, Sanders, Nina Turner and Zephyr Teachout soon followed, in addition to a detailed anti-Biden topic on Twitter by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
"These pieces didn't come out of nowhere," says a veteran Democratic strategist. "They are clearly informed by an opposition research package. So far, everyone has feared being very negative. But now everyone is getting nervous, and Bernie needs to find votes in Iowa beyond his 20% core." Conventional wisdom maintained that it is Warren and Sanders, the two declared lefties in the field, who are competing for the same voters, but the most tenacious battle – especially in Iowa, but also in New Hampshire – is proving between Biden and Sanders, for the support of the working class. And unlike Harris, whose Biden scene about school buses had no context, Sanders' emphasis on Social Security fits his populist economic message perfectly.
One element of the current skirmish is very much aimed at an audience a little further. Biden enjoyed broad and unwavering leadership with black voters in South Carolina, where the primary is on February 29. "Why do you think Bernie chose Social Security to go after Biden?" Says the veteran Democratic consultant. Wow, could it be because Social Security is the main means of support for approximately half of black elderly people? Currently, Biden is advocating lowering the Social Security tax limit and slightly increasing benefits for older seniors. But his long track record offers openings for his opponents: as a Delaware senator, Biden pushed for "freezes" in Social Security spending – effective cuts – during several budget negotiations. In 1995, Biden fought for an amendment to protect Social Security from a balanced budget proposal drafted by Republicans; when the amendment failed, he voted for the balanced budget proposal anyway. “The Sanders campaign released a video and a transcript that were intentionally deceptively edited to make it look like Vice President Biden was praising and agreeing with Paul Ryan, when it becomes clear that he was doing the exact opposite. PolitiFact classified this spot as false, ”says an advisor to Biden's campaign. "The Alliance for American Retirees gave Biden a 96% lifetime score and a 100% rating in his final term as senator, when there were many major battles for the privatization of Social Security."