With a focus on working class voters, Bernie Sanders uses New Hampshire trip to drum up support for President Biden in 2024


Monitor staff

Published: 08-28-2023 3:00 PM

During the 2020 presidential campaign, it took until April of 2020 for Bernie Sanders to suspend his presidential campaign after a vigorous fight against Joe Biden and the so-called “Democratic establishment.” Less than four years later, not only has Sanders announced that he will not mount a third bid for the White House, he’s ready to fully support Biden’s re-election.

On Saturday at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College in Manchester, the independent senator from Vermont provided a glimpse of what that will look like. The 45-minute speech he delivered to a captive crowd of supporters likely served as the first of many he will give leading up to the 2024 cycle to solidify support for President Biden and other Democrats. 

As University of New Hampshire Political Science Professor Dante Scala pointed out, Sanders can help energize voters who might not be super enthused about Biden running again.

“There’s a marked lack of enthusiasm for Biden among the Democratic base,” Scala said, citing polling conducted by UNH and other firms. “I don’t mean they dislike him. They like him fine, but they’re not willing to run through a wall for him like Trump’s base is. … My guess is Sanders is trying to help with that and will continue with that over the next year to remind progressive Democrats and independents that Biden actually has gotten a good part of the progressive agenda accomplished, and that he’s more than worthy of supporting, especially given the likely alternative.”

In particular, Scala added, Sanders will likely be deployed to talk to labor groups and to target the working-class voters Democrats have lost ground with in recent elections.

“Working class” is a commonly used term to describe voters without a four-year college degree. In the 2020 presidential election, Trump won voters with no college degree, 53%-45%, according to exit polls. Just eight years prior, President Barack Obama won 51% of those with no college degrees.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

“I could imagine Sanders being sent out to talk to those voters,” Scala said. “On the one hand, their wages have (been increasing) as the bottom of the income ladder has been increasing over the last year or so, but obviously inflation is taking a big bite out of those wage increases. So I could see Sanders being an ambassador to those particular voters.”

The most notable worrying trend for Democrats, Sanders said on Saturday, is the particular slide in support from Hispanic and Latino voters as well as Black men. In the 2020 election, Hispanic voters supported Biden by a +21 margin, down from Hillary Clinton’s +38 margin in 2016. Among Black men, Biden received 79%-19% support, down from Clinton’s 81%-14%. The differences might not seem that significant, but with the last two presidential elections decided on razor-thin margins, loss of support from those demographics could very well impact the outcome of the 2024 race.

“It should be deeply worrying that, according to recent polls, Democrats are losing more and more support within the Latino community and even among African American men,” Sanders said. “That has got to change – not just for the well-being of the Democratic Party but for the future of our country.”

There are certainly still issues where Sanders and Biden don’t see eye-to-eye – a single-payer health-care system for one. But the fact that Biden already has Sanders as an ally who can bring along many of his passionate supporters for the 2024 campaign speaks to the president’s ability to unify the Democratic Party enough to fend off a significant primary challenge.

“Biden doesn’t get a lot of credit for this, but given Sanders and how much of an insurgent he was during the past decade against the Democratic establishment, it’s a credit to Biden that he and Sanders have such a good relationship apparently,” Scala said. “And I don’t think that’s just because of the threat of Trump. I do think it’s because Biden is actually good at tending to his party and its various factions. I think he’s underappreciated for that.”

It’s something that Pete Foley, a Concord lawyer in attendance at Saturday’s speech, said he has appreciated about Biden’s presidency and why he’ll support him again in 2024.

“I think President Biden has worked with Bernie in a way that I wish President Obama had, because it’s a surprisingly different approach considering they were in the same administration,” Foley said. “They’ve accomplished a lot, and (Bernie’s) trying to remind people that if we get four more years of Joe, they’ll accomplish even more with a Democratic majority if possible.”

Looking ahead

A Bernie Sanders speech generally follows the same common threads: income inequality is worse than at any point in American history, health care is a right and not a privilege, and climate change is an existential threat facing our planet.

Throughout the upcoming campaign, like he did on Saturday, Sanders aims to tout the accomplishments of the Biden administration – like capping insulin prices at $35 a month and the largest climate investment in history – while simultaneously acknowledging the angst that so many Americans still feel.

He turned to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second inaugural address in 1937 for guidance. Roosevelt had just won a landslide reelection victory in 1936 but knew he had far more work to accomplish to dig the country out during the Great Depression.

“I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day,” Roosevelt said in that speech that Sanders recited excerpts from in front of a capacity crowd on Saturday.

He proceeded to highlight those who were denied education, those who struggled to pay for food and housing and those who couldn’t afford proper medical care.

“It is not in despair that I paint you that picture,” Roosevelt’s speech continued. “I paint it for you in hope — because the Nation, seeing and understanding the injustice in it, proposes to paint it out. We are determined to make every American citizen the subject of his country’s interest and concern; and we will never regard any faithful law-abiding group within our borders as superfluous. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Sanders sees a similar argument for Biden to make as he campaigns for re-election under some similar circumstances.

“In that way, his remarks were not an indictment of his own administration but instead a rallying cry for working-class families across America to come together with him in a joint effort to cure those ills,” Sanders said.

While some of the economic and social anxiety that existed during the 1936 campaign might be reflected similarly in the 2024 race, modern electoral politics are more divided than they were during Roosevelt’s presidency.

In the 1932 election, Roosevelt defeated incumbent Herbert Hoover, winning over 57% of the popular vote and 472 out of 531 electoral votes; in the 2020 election, Biden defeated incumbent Donald Trump, winning 51.3% of the popular vote and 306 out of 538 electoral votes. With nearly 70% of Republican voters still currently stating, inaccurately, that the 2020 election was illegitimate, Biden’s ability to execute a landslide in 2024 similar to Roosevelt in 1936, as Sanders discussed, seems highly unlikely.

What is more likely, though, is that Sanders will continue to utilize the platform he has to rally voters back to the Democratic Party’s cause.

Roni Hardy, Foley’s wife and a psychotherapist who was also at Saturday’s event, particularly appreciates Sanders’ fight for universal health care coverage as someone who doesn’t currently have health insurance because she can’t afford it.

Health-care affordability and a continued focus on addressing climate change, she said, are the top priorities she hopes a second-term Biden presidency would focus on.

They’re also messages that seemed to resonate with those in attendance, as Sanders was frequently interrupted by cheers, clapping and people voicing their agreement.

For Hardy and Foley, who were also in attendance with Pete’s brother, John, as they sat in the very back of the hall, it was a reminder of what’s at stake in the upcoming election. While all three consider themselves supporters of Sanders and took time out of their weekend to wait in a long line to see him speak, they’re all prepared to vote for Biden in 2024. And, despite all of the challenges currently facing the country from climate change-related natural disasters to high health-care costs, they see reason for optimism about a brighter future.

“I’m hopeful,” Hardy said. “I’m hopeful when I see a lot of young people coming out to things like this. That makes me happy. That makes me feel like there’s hope for this country.”