After Sec. Hillary Clinton made a trip to Iowa on September 14, a slew of other Democratic 2016 hopefuls also made their way around the first-in-the-nation caucus state. On Sunday, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders held a town hall in Des Moines, the third and final stop of his tour around the state. The event attracted 300 potential 2016 caucus goers.
Earlier in the day, Sanders appeared as a featured guest on Meet the Press, where he discussed two possible presidential runs: one as a Democrat and the other as an independent. Sen. Sanders is currently a political independent and self-avowed socialist that caucuses with the Democratic Party. During the interview, Sanders expressed his dissatisfaction with President Obama stating, “I have a lot of disagreements with him. But the bottom line is: I think he has not tapped the anger and frustration that the American people feel on many, many issues.”
Sander’s discussed the possibility of running as a third party candidate more hypothetically, saying, “The truth is, there is profound anger at both political parties, more and more people are becoming independent. The negative is, how do you set up a fifty-state infrastructure as an independent?”
Third party challenges from the left are relatively rare, but can ultimately affect the outcome of a close election. In 2000, Ralph Nader ran for President as the “true liberal” in comparison to Gore. In 1980, Illinois Rep. John B. Anderson ran as an independent liberal candidate and ended up getting eight percent of the national popular vote. In 2010, former President Jimmy Carter stated, “The only reason Reagan won in 1980 was because of that third party candidate.” Sander’s will likely take these historical case studies into account while deciding whether or not to run as an independent.
During his appearance in Des Moines, Sen. Sanders pitched a populist message focused predominantly on economic issues. Sanders characterized wealth inequality as a central problem facing American society. Sanders proposed expanding Social Security, enacting a single-payer health care system and backed raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
If Sanders were to run, he would benefit from having the second highest approval rating of any senator in the country. 67 percent of his constituents approve of his job performance while only 28 percent disapprove, according to the most recent polling. He trails only John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) in popularity. Sanders is also a seasoned politician, having served as an elected official for over two decades, 16 years in the House and currently in his seventh year as Senator. Sanders won his last election with 71 percent of the vote, trouncing his opponent by a 46.1 percent margin.
Sen. Sanders has also garnered significant support from grassroots progressive groups, including Credo Mobile, Progressive Democrats of America, elements of Occupy Wall Street and The New Republic. Additionally, Sen. Sanders also has his own political action committee, Progressive Voters of America.
Just three days later, Vice President Joe Biden visited Des Moines for the first time since 2013. He came to support a voter registration drive championed by religious leaders titled, “Nuns on the Bus.” Biden didn’t overtly mention any plans about running for president in his prepared remarks, though many in attendance wore Joe Biden presidential buttons to the event. Turnout was fairly low for a sitting vice president, with a crowd of roughly 200 in attendance.
During the speech, Biden hit many of the same populist themes used by Sen. Sanders. Near the beginning of the speech he stated, “One percent of the population shares 20 percent of the entire income of the United States. What that means is the middle class and poor have taken a hit… This inequity isn’t just bad for the middle class. It’s bad for the country. It’s bad for those living in poverty. It’s bad for the wealthy. It’s a question of basic fairness.”
Biden’s appearance coincided with a week of gaffes. On Wednesday, Biden used the term “shylocks,” a derogatory term for Jews. And during his speech in Iowa, he referred to Asia as “the orient.” In a 2016 run, opponents of Biden could point to a litany of similar gaffes accumulated through his 30+ years in public life.
Biden’s central strength would be the fact that he is the only candidate on the Democratic side that would enter the race with as much experience as Hillary Clinton. Before serving as vice president, Biden was a senator from Delaware for 36 years. Biden is no stranger to presidential campaigns. If he were to run it would be his third time, having previously run in 1988 and 2008.
Unlike Sanders, Biden has shown he is capable of raising money for a national campaign-having raised Raised 11.3 million for his 2008 bid. However, Biden did not fare well in 2008 and dropped out of the Iowa caucuses after only receiving only 0.9 percent of the vote.
In a presidential campaign, Biden would almost certainly highlight the fact that he authored the Violence against Women act, oversaw Obama’s stimulus package and served as the chief negotiator for the 2011 debt ceiling crisis, the 2012 fiscal cliff and the 2010 bush tax cut debates. He would appeal to the liberal base of the party by pointing out he advocated earlier withdrawal from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And for better or for worse, Mr. Biden would be characterized as a continuation of the Obama administration.
Vice President Biden has toyed with the idea of a 2016 run for years. In early 2011, Biden stated he would “make his mind up on that later” when asked about a presidential run. Biden was also asked if his ballot cast in 2012 would be the last time he’d be voting for himself, his response was, “No, I don’t think so.” In 2013, Biden stated, “There may be reasons I don’t run, but there’s no obvious reason for me why I think I should not run.”
Despite being potential rivals, the Clintons appear to be on good terms, at least publicly, with Biden. Hillary praised him for his “wealth of international experience” and “good manners,” even referring to him as “always a gentleman” in her 2014 memoir, “Hard Choices.” Bill Clinton has stated that he “thinks the world of him.”
Even Sen. Sanders has remained largely uncritical of Hillary. “The issue is not Hillary,” he said in an interview on September 14. “I have a lot of respect for Hillary Clinton. The question is: At a time when so many people have seen a decline in their standard of living, when the wealthiest and largest corporations are doing phenomenally well, the American people want change… Let Hillary speak for herself. I know where I’m coming from.”
Any challenger to Hillary faces an uphill battle. With less than six months until the unofficial start of the 2016 primary, Sec. Clinton has already clinched the endorsements of many power brokers in the Democratic Party and has lead all her potential rivals by double digits since early 2013.