Sen. Bernard Sanders‘ top advisers on Monday said he had become the Rodney Dangerfield of the 2020 Democratic race: He doesn’t get any respect.
They accused major news outlets of ignoring Mr. Sanders‘ postdebate surge and instead peddled stories that his campaign is waning.
“The headlines that Bernie’s campaign is in free fall or is falling apart could not be further from the truth,” Sanders campaign pollster Ben Tulchin said in a conference call with reporters.
The call was convened to make the case that Mr. Sanders has gained more momentum than any rival in the Democratic race since the July debate. They cited polling analysis showing his big boost from the debate, his lead in fundraising and his massive grassroots organization as evidence his campaign is going strong.
Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to the campaign, compared the press’s current treatment of Mr. Sanders to the “Bernie blackout” during his 2016 run against Hillary Clinton.
This time, he said, it was a “Bernie write-off.” He said major news outlets including MSNBC and The Washington Post ignored gains by Mr. Sanders, such as poll numbers showing him solidly in second place behind Vice President Joseph R. Biden.
He noted that Mr. Sanders has raised $36 million, more than any candidate, and leads with cash on hand of $27.5 million.
Mr. Tulchin said the press also wrote off the most memorable line in the debate.
In an exchange about “Medicare for All” government-run healthcare, Mr. Sanders quipped, “I wrote the damn bill.”
Several news organizations hailed the one-liner as a breakout moment in the Detroit debate, though it failed to alter the perception that his campaign was, at best, treading water.
Nina Turner, the national cochairwoman of the Sanders campaign, said the huge crowds around Mr. Sanders in Iowa reflected his continued momentum.
“Polls are one thing, but the energy on the ground is most important,” she said. “People ‘feeling the Bern’ is still very palpable on the ground.”
Still, Mr. Sanders is not grabbing headlines or gaining ground as he did when he emerged in 2016 as the far-left alternative to Mrs. Clinton.
University of North Carolina political science professor Marc J. Hetherington, a scholar of media coverage of campaigns, said the conference call appeared to be an attempt to spin information in a way that runs counter to the obvious interpretation of the state of the race.
“I can think of no definition of momentum that suggests Bernie has any of it,” Mr. Hetherington said.
The pushback from the Sanders campaign followed a steady stream of news reports about momentum building for Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
Recent polls have shown a jockeying for second place between Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren, who are both vying for the far-left lane in the race.
The Sanders campaign pointed to an analysis by the political statistics website FiveThirtyEight that found Mr. Sanders gained the most ground of any candidate since the debate last month in Detroit and was securely in second place.
The statisticians analyzed five national polls conducted after the debates, compared them with pre-debate polls conducted by the same pollsters, and weighted the polls based on sample size and pollster quality ratings to arrive at pre-debate and postdebate averages for the candidates.
The analysis found Joseph R. Biden leading with an average in postdebate national polling of 28.4%, followed by Mr. Sanders at 17.1%, Ms. Warren at 14.6%, Ms. Harris at 7.9%, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 5.4%.
Mr. Sanders gained a net 1.8 percentage points since his pre-debate polling average (15.3%), while both Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris lost ground, -1.9 points and -2.8, respectively.
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