By Arturo Castañares
Few political pundits expected Bernie Sanders to do so well among Latinos in last week’s Nevada caucuses where the Vermont Senator garnered 54% of the Latino vote that helped propel him comfortably into first place in the Silver State.
Sanders (at 78 years old, the oldest candidate that has ever run for President) is a liberal that calls himself a Democratic Socialist. He’s a US Senator of one of the smallest states in the country whose population is only 1.6% Latino compared to 16.9% nationally, and nearly 40% in California. He has been one of the most liberal members of Congress since first being elected to the House of Representatives in 1992.
Nothing about that resume would lead one to believe Latinos would vote for Sanders over other Democratic candidates.
In the 2016 primary elections, Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton is heavily Latino areas, including in Las Vegas. Back then, Sanders struggled to get more than 40% of the vote in precincts where Latinos represented a large percentage of the vote, and, in the most Latino-leaning precincts, Clinton won up to 65% of the vote.
Hillary Clinton went on to clinch the Democratic nomination for President then lost to Donald Trump in the General Election.
But that was two years before Mexico had its own presidential election in 2018 when a coalition of four liberal political parties agreed to back a three-time presidential candidate that put together the most liberal political coalition in modern Mexican history.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, then 65 years old, ran on a platform that may sound familiar to us during this year’s elections here in the US.
AMLO, as Lopez Obrador is colloquially known, promised to fight political corruption among the ruling elite, to double Mexico’s minimum wage, to build 100 new universities and offer tuition-free colleges, and even refused to use the country’s $200 million presidential jet. He ran a populist campaign that promised to put regular citizens first above the interests of big businesses and wealthy elites.
When he assumed office on December 1, 2018, AMLO dismissed over 1,000 security personnel that had protected the previous president as being unnecessary trappings of the office, as well as reduced the salaries of government officials and politicians. He was the anti-establishment candidate that became the anti-establishment president. Unheard of before, but now, an accepted concept in modern politics.
Fast forward to the present, and we find a life-long liberal that is running on a platform of a higher national minimum wage of $15, free college, forgiveness of student debt, higher taxes on the wealthy, and more regulation on big businesses and banks.
As Bernie Sanders has gained momentum in the campaigns, moderate Democratic candidates like former Vice-President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg have faltered. Biden was considered the front-runner just a few months ago but now he’s facing a do-or-die day this Saturday when South Carolina holds its primary where Biden has long said he would win among a predominately African-American voter base.
But even that support for Biden has faded in recent weeks as polls show Sanders and Biden in a near dead-heat in what was to be Biden’s firewall.
If Sanders, who now leads all Democratic candidates in the delegate count, does well or even beats Biden in South Carolina he will have huge momentum going into Super Tuesday on March 3rd when 14 states, including California, hold their primaries. Super Tuesday will deliver nearly half of all the delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.
Sanders could do well in California if young voters, environmentalists, liberals, and Latinos come together in what years-ago would have been an unusual coalition but today seems like a natural fit.
Donald Trump ran an unorthodox campaign four years ago that most political pundits thought would never succeed. Trump ran against the establishment, challenged all conventions of presidential norms, and fought against some of the most popular politicians of his party. They called him “unfit”, “a kook”, and “a con man”. Most Republicans feared that Trump at the top of the ticket would doom Republicans in Congressional and US Senate campaigns.
In the end, the most unlikely of presidential candidates won in states that Democrats thought were in the bag for Hillary Clinton, and ushered in the most unconventional president in modern history.
Now, Democrats are predicting that a Bernie Sanders ticket would doom Democrats’ chances of keeping control of the House and picking up seats in the US Senate. Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Mike Bloomberg, and US Senator Amy Klobuchar are raising the same alarms about Sanders this year that Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Chris Christie raised about Trump in 2016.
During the 2016 Republican primaries when 16 candidates fought for their party’s nomination, political pundits predicted that Donald Trump would never win. He was too many things: too vulgar, too much an outsider, too anti-establishment, and too extreme to appeal to a broad enough electorate to win.
Last time I checked, none of those other Republicans are President, and Republicans kept control of the Senate that has now pushed through two Supreme Court justices, over 150 federal judges, and saved Trump in the Impeachment trial. In the end, the Republican establishment welcomed Trump into the fold.
No one can predict the future of this presidential election, but, based on the rapid changes occurring in politics, it is not unreasonable, or even improbable, that Bernie Sanders could win in California and go on to be the Democratic nominee, and eventually, President of the United States.
Stranger things have happened, don’t you think President Trump?