1. Stick to the issues.
There’s no way to sugarcoat the reality that Bernie’s socialist tag would weigh down the Democratic ticket. Even 31 percent of Democrats say they’d never go for a socialist
. But nearly every Democratic operative I spoke with had confidence that at least some of the populist issues Sanders champions are winners in a general election. Gallup polling shows that 62 percent of Americans say the wealthy pay too little in taxes, 69 percent back a minimum wage that rises with inflation, 86 percent of Americans want universal background checks for gun purchases and 50 percent support free community college (Bernie says make all college tuition-free.). Somewhere in a Bernie platform, most candidates could find something to work with.
2. Be independent. Technically, Sanders is a registered independent, and Democratic members of Congress should get ready to show some independence of their own if a self-described socialist wins their nomination. The National Republican Campaign Committee has already taken to referring to Sanders as if he has four names, “Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders.” In response, Democrats should get ready to go it alone if necessary. “They can say, ‘I’m there to keep an eye on the president on your behalf no matter who it is. I’m there to represent you,” said Carl Chidlow, a principal at Winning Strategies Washington. “Don’t run away from it. Show a backbone in the face of it.”
3. Learn from the Bern. He’s grumpy. He’s a mess. He’s never worn a tuxedo, and grass-roots activists love him for it. Democrats I spoke with uniformly said candidates should rip a page out of Sanders coffee-stained playbook and give up on being anyone other than who they are. Liberal in a swing state? Bombastic billionaire? Immigrant in the South? Busy mom without a resume? Whatever. Voters increasingly will go for almost anything, as long as it feels real, authentic and in line with their values. So fly your flags, people. Just make sure they’re your real colors.
To summarize: Learn from the Bern. Be independent. Be bold. But let’s be honest, Democratic candidates would also have to be careful at the bottom of a Sanders-topped ticket. He may be well known in New Hampshire, Vermont and college campuses around the country, but Sanders’ current appeal among independents and moderate Democrats is limited at best.
“The good news about a Sanders candidacy is that it would probably help turn out Democratic base voters. Candidates should run hard at convincing those voters to vote for them too and try to run up the score with progressive turnout,” said Jamal Simmons, a veteran of Democratic presidential and Senate campaigns. “But for states with fewer minorities and liberal white voters, I’m not sure there is anything that could help in the end.”