With the impeachment debacle in the Senate underway, there’s been extensive talk of how the trial will keep three Presidential contenders off the campaign trail in the crucial weeks before Iowa and New Hampshire: Senators Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders.
For Warren, whose campaign has been stalling for weeks now in desperate need of rejuvenation, and Klobuchar, who has yet to take off at all, this may indeed be a death knell. Not being able to campaign when you most need to connect with voters can be fatal for many undecided voters who don’t follow politics, as candidates without high name recognition or a memorable platform have struggled to stand out in the crowded field.
This makes the issue particularly insurmountable for the Warren and Klobochar, who in spite of enjoying months of positive media coverage, are still at a deficit when it comes to name recognition and the clarity of their message; particularly Klobuchar, who is polling at a paltry 8% in Iowa. While many remember Warren’s policy-heavy summer, in the last few months she’s seemed more content palling around with Clinton and Obama, and largely dropping the whole “Progressive vs. The Establishment” act–it’s hard to appear anti-establishment when the establishment literally lines up behind you.
But for the other Senator running for President, being stuck in Washington won’t be a strategic disaster like it will for his colleagues. Sure, it’s not exactly ideal for Bernie Sanders to be removed from the campaign trail for the duration of the Senate trial, but it’s something his campaign appears to be overcoming handily.
That’s at least in part because of Sanders’ secret weapon in this primary: his surrogates. Nina Turner, his campaign co-chair. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Michael Moore. Cornel West. Ro Khanna. Keith Ellison. Even the co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s is out there making the case for Sanders. And sometimes, these vibrant voices make the case for Bernie even better than Bernie does himself. On January 25, about a week from the Iowa caucus, Michael Moore and AOC headlined Bernie rallies in Ames and Marshalltown, Iowa, where the audience didn’t even know if the Senator himself would make an appearance. There was a huge turnout regardless, and both speakers articulated the urgency of Sanders’ message with clarity, passion and, in AOC’s case, a youthfulness that is essential to the campaign.
In addition to progressive rock stars making the rounds, actual rock stars and celebrities have also come to the aide of the one candidate who the media routinely tries to ignore. John Cusack, Cardi B, Killer Mike, and Mark Rufallo, just to name a few, have recently endorsed Senator Sanders, and have advocated for him and his positions on the national news when the hosts wouldn’t. Even Joe Rogan got in on the fun, much to the ire of Woke Twitter. And, the weekend before the Iowa caucus, Vampire Weekend and Bon Iver are performing at sure-to-be-massive rallies which will boost Bernie’s name recognition and policy visions at the perfect time. Using this support to his advantage is another way Bernie’s social media-savvy team is connecting with millennials and zoomers who are in touch with pop-culture and get their news from social media, and it could pay off in a big way if these demographics actually turn out.
Sanders has assembled the perfect mix of political star power and cultural star power for a team of surrogates that can speak to every individual in this country. When you compare the power of his surrogacy to the likes of Joe Biden–who routinely trots out John Kerry–or Warren–who has been parading around a former competitor unable to clear 5 percentage points in Iowa, it’s no contest.
And just as important as his big name surrogates are his volunteer army. More formidable in numbers and energy than any other campaign’s volunteer base, Sander’s door knockers have been incredibly active in the months leading up to February, in an unprecedented boots-on-the-ground effort. He also continues to be the highest raiser of small dollar donations, coming in $10 million higher than any other candidate in the 4th quarter of fundraising.
In most campaigns, the presidential candidate is reluctant to share the spotlight, but Bernie is a different kind of politician. He welcomes the shift in attention, and has even seems to have designed his campaign that way intentionally, platforming as many voices as possible at his events even if it cuts into his own speaking time. After all, Sanders is elderly and has been saying the same damn things for his whole life. For as powerful of a presence as he is on the stump, letting his articulate, diverse surrogates convey his message is sometimes the best move. Because, after all, it’s not just his message. It’s the message of an entire movement, and Sanders seems to understand the inherent power of that.