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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks to Iowa voters at the Ames City Auditorium on January 25, 2020 in Ames, Iowa.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks to Iowa voters at the Ames City Auditorium on January 25, 2020 in Ames, Iowa. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Establishment Democrats Panic at Possibility Bernie Sanders Could Be 2020 Nominee

"The knives are out."

Eoin Higgins

As Sen. Bernie Sanders continues to rise in polls for early primary states Iowa and New Hampshire and nationally, the Democratic establishment is turning to pleading with voters, attacking the Vermont lawmaker, and plotting a coordinated strike against the campaign as possible avenues of pushback. 

But reporting from a number of outlets, including the Daily Beastindicates that the efforts are thus far amorphous and that the senator's opponents in the party have yet to settle on a coherent strategy. 

"There is, at this stage, calls to, and conversations with, donors and organizations that might support such an effort," a Democratic source told the Beast. "But as far as I can tell nobody has found sufficient financial support to get it off the ground."

The senator's allies urged supporters not to take anything for granted.

"In these last eight days, things are gonna get crazy," said Sanders surrogate Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) during a campaign event Sunday. "I don't even know what's gonna happen. And that's why we've gotta stay focused and committed as possible."

Sanders has risen in the polls in recent weeks, taking the top spot in first-in-the-nation Iowa, which caucuses on Feb. 3, and in New Hampshire, where voters head to the polls on Feb. 11. The Vermont senator is in the top two nationally, trading the number one spot with former Vice President Joe Biden depending on which poll one looks at. 

The poll numbers have seen a corresponding increase in stories about the senator's supporters, disparagingly referred to as "Bernie bros," or young white men, despite the fact that the senator boasts the most diverse coalition of anyone running for the nomination. 

Progressives were skeptical at the line of attack and questioned if it showed a lack of anything substantive to hit Sanders on.

Media critic Adam H. Johnson took particular issue with a New York Times article on the senator's supporters published Monday morning.

"Another Bernie bros piece in a major publication," tweeted Johnson. "I count six in the last week. This is what you publish when you got nothing else to publish on the front runner."

According to NBC News, panic at the probability of a Sanders victory has begun to set in at the executive offices of right-wing Democratic think tank Third Way.

"We issued a warning a year ago that Sanders could win the nomination and would likely lose to Trump," the group's vice president Matt Bennett told NBC. "And we've been the only ones really taking the fight to him."

Third Way in the summer of 2018 hosted an anti-Sanders retreat for centrist and right-wing Democrats opposed to Sanders and the left-wing movement he inspired. It's unclear what else the group has done to stop Sanders.

Nonetheless, Bennett called for a united front against Sanders.

"It's past time for other Democrats to come off the sidelines and for the media to start doing its job to vet a serious contender for the nomination," said Bennett. "We simply can't stand by while there's a threat that Democrats could nominate a guy who would hand such nuclear-level ammunition to the Trump campaign."

However, as the Daily Beast reported, that sentiment is not shared among the party at large.

Among some campaigns, there is a growing fear that the pushback—mild as it has been so far—has come too late; that Sanders' crest in the polls has come at the perfect time. That's caused angst in some quarters. But in others, many Democrats have grown comfortable with the prospect that the senator could end up being the nominee, believing that the asymmetrical political coalition that he puts together, along with the fundraising prowess that he possesses, would make him a strong candidate against Trump. 

Filmmaker Michael Moore told a crowd of around 1,400 in Ames, Iowa Saturday night that they should still be prepared for attacks. 

"The knives are out," said Moore.

According to the Beast's reporting Monday, those knives may be wielded by the Democratic Majority for Israel, a group run by pollster Mark Mellman. The group has bought tens of thousands of dollars in ads in Iowa, the Beast reported.

In a statement, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir rejected the negative attacks on his candidate:

Let's be clear: our growing support results from working-class Americans from diverse backgrounds demanding an agenda that transforms our country. All Democrats should be ecstatic to witness this movement attracting new supporters. To win seats up and down the ballot, we need to generate excitement and enthusiasm that drives a huge voter turnout. Bernie Sanders has demonstrated over the course of this primary that this campaign is able to do that—and that's why Donald Trump is nervous.

The Sanders campaign expressed confidence in the senator's message. Bernie 2020 Iowa State director Misty Rebik said in a press release Sunday that the campaign was going to rely on the movement to get the campaign over the finish line.

"Our volunteers are working harder than ever to reach as many Iowans as possible and expand the electorate," said Rebik. "Our movement is fueled by working people who want to see real, fundamental change. Together, we're going to win the Iowa caucus, send Bernie Sanders to the White House, and make history."

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