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As unexpectedly skillful as Bernie Sanders turned out to be as a presidential candidate, he may be positioned now to be even better in another capacity: Movement leader.

The Vermont senator has done a terrific job getting as far as he has in the presidential primary. Starting with almost nothing in the presidential run against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, he battled very nearly to a draw. Up until the New York primary, he retained a plausible route to the nomination, scoring some overwhelming wins along the way.

New York turned a page. To win the nomination, he would have to take a majority of the pledged delegates nationally, and after yesterday that means he would need overwhelming wins almost everywhere still on the calendar. Wins he probably will get (Oregon, likely, for one), but not on that scale. That's not going to happen.

The typical response to this kind of situation is to "suspend" the campaign - call a halt, keeping the organization technical alive for a while to allow for additional fundraising to pay off the bills.

Sanders' response may be a little different, and in the interest of his cause probably should be.

He still has money and enthusiasm, and he can leverage them. He could stay active through the rest of the primary season, into June and California, winning as many delegates as he can. The object would not be to defeat Clinton, whose eventual nomination is close to a lock now. The point rather would be to form a large and powerful bloc at the convention, and beyond. It would not constitute a nominating majority, but it would be so large a portion of the overall delegation that it could not be safely ignored. It could make demands. And it could apply pressure, as it has for most of a year now, on Hillary Clinton.

When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 he did it with a massive organization organized extremely well. Had he kept it operative as an active grass roots effort supporting his administration's efforts, a great deal of the history since - notably the off-year elections of 2010 and 2014 - might have turned out quite a bit differently. At this point, even while falling short of the nomination, Sanders has an organization as large and enthusiastic, and capable of financing itself, as Obama had, and maybe more so. If Hillary Clinton is elected president, she might well run into the same kind of Republican brick wall - even if Democrats retake the Senate - that Obama has. A Sanders-led grass roots organization could both serve as a counterweight to that brick wall, and push Clinton into more ambitious efforts than she might attempt otherwise.

There's an old story about Franklin Roosevelt that tells of one of his political allies urging the president to undertake some program. Roosevelt was not opposed, but he saw the political obstacles, and the possible overall political cost to his administration, if he tried launching it on his own. His response to the ally: "Make me do it."

In other words, pressure me into doing it, in such a way that the political forces in favor of passage amount to not just me, but also much more.

You could consider it a sort of value-added shadow presidency, that Sanders could pursue if he keeps his organization intact and active beyond November. What could happen as a result might be no small thing.

First take/New Hampshire

The establishment of both political parties had a very bad night and must be having a rugged morning after.

On the Democratic side, the New Hampshire primary win by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was certainly no surprise; most polls there have for several months shown him leading former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The size of the win was something else, though - that was beyond what nearly any poll had predicted. Sanders wound up with a true landslide, a 60% win, beating Clinton not just substantially but by more than 20 percentage points. He was advantaged in being a next-door neighbor, of course, and demographically as well, two reasons why a win was predicted. But a win on this scale has to involve other factors as well, including connecting with the tenor of the times in a way Clinton has not.

A month from now, there's a real possibility this point in the process may be a distant memory; the upcoming states will not represent such favorable ground for Sanders. But he has shown some real strength for his brand of progressive politics. He has tapped into something, and Clinton will ignore that at her peril. She is said to be spending time the next day or two recalibrating her campaign. If that involves such things as staff shakeups, you'll know that the interest is more in scapegoating than in problem solving; her chief problems do not appear to include staff weaknesses. But if you see changes in campaign style, tactics, and messages, you may get a sense they're actually adapting to conditions as they are on the ground.

On the Republican side - well, principally it was a night for businessman Donald Trump to prove that the polls weren't lying, and that any establishment attempt to take on him and Texas Senator Ted Cruz remains hopelessly incoherent, and will for at least a while longer.

The Iowa results were less conclusive in this respect. There, in the difficult caucus environment, Trump underperformed, the well-organized Cruz did about as well as expected (or maybe a little better), and the established appeared to found its guy in the form of Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Now this scenario has been completely upended. This time, Trump matched his polling, or maybe did even a little better, ending the hope that his poll-reflected support wasn't real. It's real, all right, even if it may be reflected to various degrees in different kinds of states. Cruz fell to third place this time, though he probably wasn't feeling too bad about that; he had a first-place win (in Iowa) in his back pocket, and third place in a state as non-amenable to his form of evangelical and militia activist organization wasn't awful. Like Trump, he emerged well positioned to go on.

The real punch-out, strategically, was to the "establishment candidates" - Rubio, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Ohio Governor John Kasich. The mainstream of the national Republican organization badly needs one of them to emerge as its champion to slay Trump and Cruz, but the odds of that happening aren't promising right now.

Christie, finishing in sixth place, had invested heavily in New Hampshire and just couldn't gain traction, and now is nearly out of money; he probably drops from the race today. Bush, who saw an uptick in New Hampshire in the final days, did just well enough to justify continuing on, and can since he still has money and organization - even though there's no evidence of any enthusiastic support, or reason to think he'll be competitive with the top two. Rubio, the former organization champion, emerged badly bloodied after his "Marcobot" fiasco, and will have to rebuild enthusiasm for his campaign from the ground up - with hardly any time left to accomplish that. And Kasich, the one of the group who really did do well in New Hampshire, a state that was about as amenable to him as any in the country, spent practically every resource he had - time, money, personnel, energy - for months specifically in that state, and has little to nothing left over to pour into any other place. He has to be hoping his second place win Tuesday will translate to more money and support, and he may get some, but he remains a very long shot.

In all, the Republican race looks very much as it did a month ago. The clearest paths to the nomination are those pursued by Trump and Cruz; their nearest competitor, whoever that turns out to be (and that identity is far from clear right now) will have to clear out a lot of brush along the way. - rs

First take/Biden

For all the talk in recent weeks that Vice President Joe Biden would jump into the presidential race, I haven't thought he would - as a matter of practicality. His interest in becoming president was certainly real, as witness by his own previous runs for the job, and he had a base of support. A lot of people like Joe Biden, and think he would be a good president. But start with the fact that Biden has had the opportunity since 2009 to gradually lay groundwork for a presidential run - lining up fundraising, bringing supporters and campaign operatives on board - and he never did. If he wanted to get into the race, he could have done it a year ago, or up to early this year, and would have had a reasonable shot at the nomination. He and Hillary Clinton might have been serious competitors, and Bernie Sanders might have stayed out (that last depending in part on how the campaigns were being structured). If he had wanted that badly to do it, in other words, he could have. Now, too much of the financial and personnel you need to run (on the Democratic side) has been absorbed by other candidates, and the practical amount of time needed to mount a serious campaign in the early states is really too little. And to run for president you have to want it very badly indeed. Biden took the wise course. - rs

Ridin’ with Biden


Too many of the too few publicly professing Democrats in Idaho are taking perverse pleasure in the consternation that the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump is causing the regular Republican party across the nation.

Like these Republican regulars, they do not believe Trump has a chance in hell of being the Republican nominee---he’s too much of a loose cannon, has no guiding philosophy and no principles; he’s a narcissistic ego-maniac who will eventually be reigned in, circumscribed and neutered. So goes the conventional wisdom

In the meantime these partisans take pleasure in every unorthodox thing Trump says, recognizing that it will make things difficult for whoever wins the nomination. If, as some secretly hope, Trump ends up mounting a third party independent challenge (Though he has pledged not to do so)¸ conventional wisdom is this will ensure a Democratic victory regardless of who the nominee will be.

To use a Biblical image, this is the classic case of one party seeing the speck of wood in the other’s eye not recognizing the log in their own. The ground truth is that in Idaho and in the nation the Democratic Party is in as much disarray as the Republicans.

In Idaho, a handful of relative active Democrats just went through a more than appears to the eye divisive election of a new State Chairman, former State Senator Bert Marley, from Bannock county.

Marley’s main opposition came from Dean Ferguson, the party’s communications director, who decided to seek the chairmanship but wanted to continue to receive the salary he receives and do the job he still held. Both posts are consideered full-time, but the chairmanship is unpaid.

Not surprisingly a number members of the State Party’s executive committee questioned whether one person could do both well. The vacancy in the chairmanship was created by the resignation of Larry Kenck, a retired Teamster organizer from Post Falls who by all accounts was performing the duties competently and well. He resigned because he appeared to have contracted a life-threatening health challenge (Fortunately he appears to have met the challenge and is on the mend). During the transistion period, state vice-chair Jeanne Buell, from Worley acted as interim chair.

Ms. Buell is a no-nonsense, smart, tough and well informed individual who has devoted hours of time and personal resources to the party. She is well-respected in all quarters, tells it like it is and has little time for fools. She issued an order that party staff was to stay out of choosing sides in the contest.

Imagine her surprise then when a top staffer sent around an e-mail endorsing Mr. Ferguson. That Marley hasn’t backed Ms. Buell up and fired the contrarian has virtually ensured she will resign when the party has its fall gathering on October 2 in Lewiston.

This state disarray is even worse at the national level where Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of California presides over a national committee that by all accounts is full of people who literally detest her. Some of this relates to her limiting the number of debates and threatening punishment to any Democrat that participates in an unsanctioned debate. She is arrogant, imperious and arbitrary.

Reportedly, President Obama ignores her and will have nothing to do with her. He figures she is the problem for whoever gets the Democratic nomination.

What is beginning to dawn on Democrats across the nation is that the nominee will not be Hillary Clinton. In the words of long-time political observer Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, Ms. Clinton has bombed as a candidate on the campaign trail. Not only has she mishandled badly the e-mail server issue, she and her advisors badly under estimated the challenge posed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

National Democratic leaders believe Sanders is unelectable because of his socialistic views just as Republican leaders believe Trump is unelectable.

There’s only one direction national Democrats can turn—and that’s to Vice President Joe Biden who is just biding his time waiting for the inevitable implosion of Hillary’s candidacy. Some observers believe Biden’s son, Beau, extracted a promise from his Dad as he lay dying that the Vice President would run.

While in Pittsburg over Labor Day Biden reportedly met with a top Labor leader who said he had $60 million ready to work on Biden’s behalf.

If you saw Biden working the Labor Day parade route in Pittsburg there’s no doubt in your mind that Joe is running and there are lots of Democrats prayng that he does. I, for one, will be “ridin’ with Biden.”

Hopefully he can bring order out of the party chaos just around the corner---at least nationally. Idaho may still be beyond salvaging.

Dark horse Democrat


One of my editors called last week with a question:

“If Hillary implodes who is your long-shot hunch to carry the Democratic banner into the fall?” This one is much easier than last week’s speculation on who might emerge from a brokered Republican National Convention.

First, though, is it possible that one of Mrs. Clinton’s currently declared (or about to declare) rivals could catch fire? The answer is no.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was not all that well-liked by Marylanders. As a former Baltimore mayor he also was one of the architects of the Baltimore Police Department’s “when in doubt arrest ‘em” policy even for the slightest of infractions, especially if one lived on the wrong side of the tracks. Hard to see him catching fire.

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Then there’s the mecurial former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who announced the formation of an exploratory committee and then promptly dropped from view. As a former decorated Vietnam veteran Marine, the best selling author of Fields of Fire and Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, Webb was expected by an eagerly hopeful media to tie Mrs. Clinton in knots if in a debate with her over defense policy.

While considered by some pundits to be a new, younger looking face for the electorate to contrast with .Mrs. Clinton, who, along with her husband Bill, aka “Slick Willie,” seems to have been around forever, Webb is in fact 69 years old as is Hillary. Thus, he will have a hard time making the case he represents a generational change.

Then there is the just announced former Rhode Island governor and senator, Lincoln Chaffee, who styles himself as an “internationalist” and is the son of long-time respected moderate Republican Senator John Chaffee. The younger Chaffee created a bit of a buzz in his announcement by saying he would work to have America truly adopt the metric system and join the rest of the world.

This falls under the rubric “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Most Americans are content with the system of measurements we have and there’s no feeling this is a problem in search of a solution. A platform item that advocates change when there is no crying need for the change hardly appears to be a winning formula.

So, if Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy implodes, and trust me on this one, there’s a national media salivating at the almost certain prospect that she’ll stumble or say something that flies in the face of conventional wisdom which will ignite the “blood in a pool of sharks” phenomenon. In other words, the media will generate a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Is there a dark horse waiting in the wings? The more liberal element of the Party is advancing Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. She does have a captivating, up-by-the-bootstraps, divorced single Mom story and is unquestionably brilliant. On the other hand, she has a caustic style and does not exactly convey a warm, fuzzy feeling. She’s hard to like and most people want their president to be likeable (remember “I like Ike!).

That leaves only one other possibility for someone to pick up the pieces of a shattered Clinton candidacy who can quickly unite the Democratic Party with a plausible, possibly winning candidacy: Vice President Joe Biden.

No one watching this past Saturday the funeral of his 46-year-old son, Beau, a former two-term Delaware Attorney General, can fail not to have been deeply moved by the dignity and grace with which he met this latest tragedy in his star-crossed life. Nor can one have failed to have seen the incredible love of family manifesting itself.

Joe Biden is a survivor who has taken the worst of the slings and arrows of misfortune one can be handed---the loss of his first wife and daughter in an accident before he had even turned 30 and take the seat he had just won in the U.S. Senate. Sure, he is the quintessential, optimistic, back-slapping politician subject to an occasional verbal gaffe.

However, he’s the real deal and a rarety among office holders and seekers today. He’s truly the authentic person you see, an honest, compassionate human being who has always seen public service as a noble calling. President Obama’s fine eulogy underscored the loyalty that exists between the families and the two of them.

If Hillary stumbles and implodes, he will step up to the challenge with the most human of the competing narratives and will be a formidable candidate. If by chance you missed this past weekend’s coverage, find a copy of the best presidential politics book ever written, called What It Takes, and reread Richard Ben Cramer’s profile of Joe Biden. You’ll see why he will be a much better candidate than Mrs. Clinton.