Sanders Offers Clinton Both a Potential Foil and a Pitfall

NYT FDMaggie Haberman April 30, 2015

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Good Thursday morning from Washington, where Senator Ted Cruz of Texas followed Jeb Bush’s recent outreach to Hispanic voters, and the Senate is using a bit of subterfuge to address the nuclear deal with Iran. But, with the news that Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was joining presidential the race, attention turns to how Hillary Rodham Clinton might respond.

The entrance of Mr. Sanders into the Democratic presidential primary presents Mrs. Clinton, who is working hard to highlight her progressive bona fides, with both potential pitfalls and opportunities.

Mr. Sanders, the wispy-haired independent of Vermont, will become Mrs. Clinton’s first official opponent from the left, positioning himself as a vessel for liberal Democrats who are trying to shape the likely nominee’s policy stances.

Even with Mr. Sanders consolidating some of the non-Clinton vote in places like New Hampshire and Iowa so far, some close to Mrs. Clinton see him as a potentially useful foil. And many of Mrs. Clinton’s allies believe she will benefit from some early competition.

What’s more, given that Mr. Sanders is a self-described socialist, some of her supporters believes she’ll appear more center-left by contrast, even as her language is consistently being compared to that of Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Mr. Sanders will also provide an early test for how much of a vacuum exists to Mrs. Clinton’s left. He and former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland are vying to occupy what right now totals less than 40 percent of the primary vote in early polls. (Democracy for America, the Vermont-based organization founded by Howard Dean, released a statement late Wednesday that its leaders still hope Mrs. Warren runs; she has said she won’t.)

Mr. O’Malley, on the other hand, could try to present himself as a fresh face in contrast to both Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton.

Still others argue that Mrs. Clinton may need to tread carefully with Mr. Sanders and Mr. O’Malley. Progressives argue that the party’s demographics and what moves its core constituency in a general election are different now than they were 20 years ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president.