While Super Tuesday ballots were still being counted Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders launched the next phase of his Democratic presidential campaign with a trio of television advertisements in mid-March primary states directly and indirectly challenging his top competitor, former Vice President Joe Biden.
After Sanders on Tuesday won at least four states—including the biggest, California—and Biden performed better than expected nationwide in the single-largest day of primary voting, political commentators began framing the contest as "a two-person race for the future of the Democratic Party and the country."
The new TV ads, produced by Sanders' in-house team, are airing in states scheduled to vote on March 10 (Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, and Washington) and March 17 (Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio). It is unclear if the ads will also target North Dakota, which is set to hold caucuses on March 10.
A Sanders advertisement titled "Protect Social Security" swipes at Biden for his record on not only that social safety net program, but also Medicare and Medicaid. The ad features audio of the former vice president recalling his argument for a federal spending freeze, followed by Sanders saying: "Well, we've got some bad news for them. We are not gonna cut Social Security. We are gonna expand benefits."
Sanders senior adviser Warren Gunnels shared the ad on Twitter Wednesday and wrote: "Joe Biden has a 40-year history of working with Republicans to cut Social Security. Bernie Sanders has a 30-year record fighting to expand Social Security and prevent cuts."
Another Sanders ad employs a tactic already used by his fellow competitors: footage of former President Barack Obama praising the candidate. "Bernie is somebody who has the virtue of saying exactly what he believes. Great authenticity, great passion, and is fearless," the last Democratic president says in the ad.
Despite reporting in recent days that Obama has privately spoken with some candidates, he has declined to publicly endorse anyone—including Biden, his vice president for both terms—so far.
While some reporters noted that the Obama ad "leaves out context" and wrote that the move raises eyebrows, given that Sanders has "stood out among elected officials [as] one of the 44th president's fiercest left-leaning critics," other commentators and Sanders supporters commended the campaign for being politically "savvy."
Holy shit this new ad is exactly what Sanders should be doing btwn now & next Tuesday. It is insane how nimble & savvy his campaign is. Hats the fuck off. pic.twitter.com/D3sZLqF1pv
— rob delaney (@robdelaney) March 4, 2020
This Bernie ad ft Obama is airing right now in Florida. This is the sneakiest thing I’ve seen the Sanders campaign do so far. And it’s long overdue and right on point. If the DNC thinks Sanders is backing down easily again like in 2016, they’re more out of touch than i thought. pic.twitter.com/xx5Zf4aPfk
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— Armani (@historyofarmani) March 4, 2020
In a comment to NBC News national political reporter Sahil Kapur, Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates hit back by touting the former vice president's service in Obama's administration:
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) March 4, 2020
The final ad features union autoworker Sean Crawford explaining that he supports Sanders' second presidential bid because he is the only candidate who "has consistently opposed every disastrous trade deal" that has "decimated" Crawford's community.
"The banksters that have been robbing us blind and stealing our pensions and destroying our communities, they have something to worry about," Crawford says. "This is a man of conviction, a man of integrity, a man that is going to stand up for you no matter what."
Although the ad is about Sanders' support for working people and makes no mention of Biden, the former vice president has fought for endorsements from labor unions across the country and has famously called himself "middle-class Joe."
The ads followed a memo for Sanders staff and surrogates, authored by campaign manager Faiz Shakir and senior adviser Jeff Weaver, that was first published by the Washington Post before polls closed Tuesday. The memo declared that "we are now entering the phase of the primary in which the differences between Bernie and Biden will take center stage."
As Common Dreams reported Tuesday, the memo also highlighted Biden's record on Social Security cuts as well as some of his key votes when he represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate; Biden backed the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the 2005 bankruptcy bill.
Only Sanders, Biden, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) remained in the race as of press time. However, Gabbard and Warren's respective poor performances in the Super Tuesday primaries fueled speculation over how much longer they will continue their campaigns.