Electing Bernie Sanders: Running An Unconventional Campaign For An Unconventional Candidate

Bernie Sanders is one of the most unique presidential candidates in modern American politics. He’s an atheist, Jewish, socialist Senator who is not a member of a political party. A candidate this unique needs a campaign that is similarly sui generis. At ElectingBernieSanders.net I am going to discuss what unique advantages Bernie has, how he can use them to win, and what electoral strategy his campaign should pursue. I will also discuss a lot of other things related to his presidential campaign. I’ll address a few things at a high level in this post.

Bernie Sanders is a candidate who promises to govern in a new way and to pursue policy that no person who has been elected president has pursued. For this reason he needs to campaign in a way no one else has campaigned. I’ll cover all the major things Bernie can do to boost his campaign in a series of posts following this but I’ll go through a brief outline now.

The first thing Bernie should do is build on his 1 million volunteer success by requesting that each person send 3-7$, if possible, as a donation to the campaign. Not only do small donations add up when you are talking about 1 million people but he could release the results of the request to prove that he has 1 million unique volunteers, including over 324,000 new people not involved in 2016, and that they will take actions more significant than signing a pledge online to support him. If he has a way to verify that volunteer total that is massive. For instance 1 million people knocking on a single door list each is potentially 50 million door knocks. No Democratic primary has had more than 40 million voters.

Bernie has already begun what I had planned to have as a major effort to improve his campaign. He has hired one of the most diverse high level campaign staffs ever, including co-chairs. So we’ll skip all the arguments about that. Of course it would be ideal if he kept this up and even expanded it to the lower tiers.

A major aspect of a successful Sanders campaign would be to create a unified online organizing hub with modern features and social media integration. Social media is great for outreach, but very limiting for organizing. A proper tiered system of organizing handling multiple levels of interaction and commitment would be a huge boost to any online focused campaign, especially one to the scale of Bernie’s. Social media for outreach, Slack/Discord for the lowest level of organizing, and then follow that up with 2 or 3 more levels of commitment topped by campaign staff at the highest level. The post on this will be pretty huge so buckle in for that.

The next major step Bernie needs to take involves both showing a commitment to all of the constituencies of the Democrats, demonstrating commitment on climate change, and getting a progressive Congress willing and able to pass his sweeping legislative agenda. Did I not go over his sweeping agenda yet? A later post then. Bernie needs to field a slate of young female and/or minority candidates in the 70 House seats that Democrats lost by 10% or less in 2018. In a world where Bernie could become the nominee, we could expect a minimum of 40 of those seats to flip while keeping all the party’s existing seats. There are only 435 House seats, ending a repeal of the law that capped them at that number. Far less than half of the existing House members deserve to be there. There are far more people, even when excluding straight, white men, who are more qualified and more deserving than the median Democratic member, much less the median House member overall. Pushing for a more diverse legislature would not lower the quality in any way.

Following this is Bernie campaigning on a massive election reform effort including opening up the number of House seats, passing local, state, and Congressional ranked choice voting, or another form of voting superior to first past the post, and working towards amendments or a convention to institute modern Democratic reforms like multi member districts, national, probably party list, based constituencies, and other significant legislation.

The most significant factor in Bernie winning after having a serious online hub is campaign strategy. The campaign left hundreds of delegates on the table in 2016 because they opened offices in states with a week or two weeks to go until the primary there. This was partially necessary, Bernie had a ton of work to do in early states and for fundraising. Not this time. Bernie is the frontrunner, he has the most cast and donors, the most volunteers, and he is competing against an unruly herd of opponents with limited money and resources. A 50 State Strategy is just as critical for a serious candidate in the primary as it is in the general. No excuses.

There are many more minor but no less important changes Bernie must engage with but we’ll cover those under the post about his potential legislative agenda. I’ll be trying to write a couple posts every day, with a minimum of one, from now on. The next two days should allow for ~10 more posts on various topics. Feel The Bern.

Nation Polling Results And Average By Month, With And Without Morning Consult

February Polls:
Monmouth: 16
Morning Consult: 16
Morning Consult: 22
McLaughlin: 16
Emerson: 17
Morning Consult: 21
Morning Consult: 27 (First post announcement poll)
Harris: 22
Average: 19.6%
Without MC: 17.8%

March Polls:
Morning Consult: 27
Monmouth: 25
Harris: 19
Morning Consult: 27
Morning Consult: 27
Emerson: 26
Change Research: 24
Fox News: 23
McLaughlin: 17
Morning Consult: 25
Quinnipiac: 19
Harris: 17
Average: 22.8%
Without MC: 21.1%

April Polls:
Harris: 18
Morning Consult: 25
Harris: 19
Morning Consult: 23
Morning Consult: 23
Emerson: 29
LA Times: 16
Average: 21.9%
Without MC: 20.5%

The 50 State Strategy: The Greater And Core South

I divide the South into two sections. The Greater South and the Core South. While the Greater South technically contains Texas, Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and certain other states, I omit them as they are covered in other sections. I have the delegate target tables for Core and Greater Southern states below:

The Greater South: 398 Delegates

State Delegates Bernie’s Target Date/Format
North Carolina 110 55%+ (61) March 3rd/Primary
Virginia 99 45%+ (45) March 3rd/Primary
Maryland 79 50%+ (40) April 28th/Primary
Tennessee 64 60%+ (38) March 3rd/Primary
Kentucky 46 70%+ (32) May 19th/Primary

The Core South: 297 Delegates

State Delegates Bernie’s Target Date/Format
Georgia 105 35%+ (40) Unknown/Primary
South Carolina 54 35%+ (19) February 29th/Primary
Alabama 52 30%+ (17) March 3rd/Primary
Louisiana 50 35%+ (17) March 7/Primary
Mississippi 36 40%+ (14) March 10th/Primary

As we can see the Abridged Greater South contains 695 total delegates which is 18.4% of all delegates. We included one early state, South Carolina, in the Core South. That leaves 658 delegates remaining in the states not covered if we don’t include Iowa and New Hampshire which got their own post. That does include Nevada. I have Bernie at 216/398 delegates in the Greater South, an average of 54%. I have him at 107/297 delegates in the Core South, amounting to 36%.

This puts him at 323/695 delegates overall in the South, an average of 46.47%, slightly ahead of the average he needs. The South is his worst area even though I’ve set targets well ahead of his 2016 numbers. Well perhaps you could argue that the 4 largest states are slightly worse for him, but not by much. Bernie needs 596 delegates and he gets 323 here, putting him at 273 to go. Considering that the remaining states are pretty good for him compared to the South, he is looking good in my model.

The major thing Bernie needs to do to get to his delegate targets in the 18 small states and the South is be frank and open. He needs to start each speech talking about his plans in the other part of the country so he can’t be misunderstood or accused of dishonesty. Directly tell voters what he plans to do for others, before getting to his plans for them. Explain in each place how this ties together to win him the election and flip Congress so he can actually pass legislation.

Bernie needs to spend a lot of time in the overall South. He has to talk to people, hold rallies, and have people on doors. He can’t afford the perception that was created, unfairly or otherwise, last time that he was focusing on northern and white states. He has the cash, and if you follow my post about the 100 days he spent in Iowa and NH last time, the time, to go national. His greatest chance for error is hitting Iowa and NH hard at the expense of more important states. He’ll do well there regardless. He needs to get out into the wider country. Especially if he wants to win the general election. The South is a major part of that.

The 50 State Strategy: Getting 70-100% Of Delegates In Small States

Below I have listed the total delegates, and my targets for Bernie, for the 18 smallest states, excluding Mississippi, Nevada, and New Hampshire, and adding Oklahoma. This is a total of 399 delegates, roughly identical to California’s total. These states account for 10.68% of total delegates. I have listed the targets in terms of delegates and not the popular vote. Delegate results can vary wildly from the popular vote depending on who fails to break 15%.

State Delegates Bernie’s Target 2016 % Date/Format
Oklahoma 37 80%+ (30) 55.3% March 3rd/Primary
Kansas 33 80%+ (26) 69.7% Unknown/Caucus
Arkansas 31 60%+ (19) 31.3% May 19th/Primary
Utah 29 70%+ (20) 81.2% Unknown/Caucus
New Mexico 29 70%+ (16) 47.1% June 2nd/Primary
Nebraska 25 80%+ (20) 60.0% Unknown/Primary
Maine 24 80%+ (19) 68.0% Unknown/Caucus
West Virginia 24 80%+ (19) 62.1% May 12th/Primary
Hawaii 22 80%+ (18) 68.0% Unknown/Caucus
Rhode Island 21 80%+ (17) 54.2% April 28th/Primary
Idaho 20 80%+ (16) 78.3% Unknown/Primary
Delaware 17 80%+ (14) 42.9% April 28th/Primary
Vermont 16 100% (16) 100.0% March 3rd/Primary
Montana 16 100% (16) 52.4% June 2nd/Primary
Alaska 14 100% (14) 81.3% Unknown/Caucus
North Dakota 14 100% (14) 72.2 Unknown/Caucus
South Dakota 14 100% (14) 50.0% June 2nd/Primary
Wyoming 13 100% (13) 50.0% Unknown/Caucus

If you do the math you see that I have Bernie’s target at 321 out of 399 potential delegates. That’s almost exactly an average of 80%. This would be equivalent to winning 77.25% of delegates in California. Getting 80% in these 18 states is actually far more plausible than scoring 77% in California. Bernie is assured of 100% in Vermont for one thing. There will be basically 0 competition in any of these states, perhaps excepting Delaware for obvious reasons. 7 states have caucuses which are a huge boost for Bernie, especially in a wide field.

The most significant factor in Bernie’s chance to hit these states hard is volunteer time and cash. If he gets started early in these states and articulates his strong positions on rural issues and plays up being from Vermont he will be unstoppable. A majority of the other candidates will be scrambling for votes in early states while Bernie already has immense power in Iowa and New Hampshire, and even perhaps Nevada. His rivals will not have the time or money to branch out and, Biden aside, they will not have much demographic or policy pull in these states.

Bernie can pick up 8.52% of the total delegates with the numbers I’ve set for his targets. That is 17% of the total he needs to win. That puts him way ahead of any other candidates. A 13% lead in a 1 v 1 race, as the remaining 78 delegates are 4% of the total needed to win. The advantage gained here can counter poor numbers in other competitive states. For instance if Bernie was to average 40% of the delegates in California, Texas, New York, and Florida, 1087 total delegates, against an opponent who hit 60% of the delegates, he would be behind 217 delegates. But he would have a net lead of 243 delegates from these 18 small states. That would put him at a combined lead of 26 delegates.

The 18 small states and 4 largest states account for 1486 delegates, 39.44% of the total. As noted in the previous post on medium to large mid west states, that is another 861 votes. That brings our total to 30 states and 62.28% of the delegates. With his net 26 delegates from the 18 and 4 states and a net of 205 delegates from the 8 medium to large states he sits at 231 net delegates. This means he only needs 596 or 41.94% of the remaining 1421 delegates to win. The remaining 21 states, counting Puerto Rico and the 4 early states, will be discussed in a future post.

The 50 State Strategy: Berning The Midwest

Below are the 8 states in the Midwest or Great Lakes regions that are not covered under other posts about delegates. Some states are in the 20 Smallest States post, or the Early States posts.

The states below account for 861 delegates or more than 20% of all delegates. As you can see Bernie would need to average ~62% of the delegates, gaining 533 delegates here to win. I use delegate percentages and not popular vote percentages because with so many candidates and the 15% rule its hard to deal with weird results.

State Delegates Bernie’s Target 2016 % Date/Format
Illinois 155 55%+ (85) 49.4% March 17th/Primary
Pennsylvania 153 60%+ (92) 43.9% April 28th/Primary
Ohio 136 60%+ (82) 43.4% March 10th/Primary
Michigan 125 65%+ (81) 51.5% March 10th/Primary
Minnesota 77 65%+ (50) 59.7% March ?/Primary
Wisconsin 77 65%+ (50) 55.8% April 7th/Primary
Indiana 70 70%+ (49) 53.0% May 5th/Primary
Missouri 68 65%+ (44) 49.3% March 10th/Primary

Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Illinois all come early in the process, withing 2 weeks of super Tuesday. This allows a decent chance for wasted votes meaning Bernie could score less than 62% of the total votes and still get the 62% of delegates he needs to win nationally.

Emerson polling has a great result for Bernie in Wisconsin:


Candidate Vote Share
Bernie 39%
Biden 24%
Warren 14%
Beto 6%
Harris 5%
Klobuchar 4%
Booker 2%
Other 6%

If, though its unlikely, these were the actual results Bernie would get 62% of the delegates, or 48. This is slightly below his target but totally acceptable.

California+Texas+New York accounts for 868 delegates, almost identical to the total for these 8 medium states. Sanders could get ~38% in those 3 states and he would end up with almost exactly 50% of the vote.

There are 3768 pledged delegates this time around. That means a win of 533 delegates in the 8 aforementioned states accounts for ~14% of the total of pledged delegates. Or ~28% of the delegates Bernie needs to win. With ~38% in CTN, that is another 330 putting Bernie at ~23% of total pledged delegates and ~46% of delegates needed to win. He would need 1022 more delegates.

As we can see Bernie needs to do very well in this medium to large Midwest/Great Lakes states to win the nomination. He has some room to improve here, especially if his campaign is smart. As I discuss in my Iowa/New Hampshire piece, Bernie could coast in those early states and spend the 100 combined days he spent there in these states, and 2 more, perhaps Oklahoma and Colorado, states voting on Super Tuesday.

10 days in each of these states instead of camping the early states could easily lead to gains of a few hundred delegates vs spending time in Iowa. These 8 states, not to mention the two others he could pick, account for roughly 20x the delegates in Iowa and they will be only lightly contested. No other campaign will have the cash or volunteer canvassers so early in the process to hit hard in these states.

A 5% gain in these 8 states is worth a whole New Hampshire and a 10% gain is a whole Iowa. If Bernie averaged 67% instead of 62% that would be an extra 2.5% of his total delegate requirement to win. Hitting 72% would put him 5% closer. With the minimal amount of opposition, whether cash or canvassers, Bernie has so much room to grow in states that receive little to no attention in a typical race. Compare with Iowa where individual citizens have met 100+ candidates in their lives and been to 800+ events. Most people in Missouri have personally met 1-2 candidate if that and been to maybe 8-10 events if they have been involved for 40 years.

Another key factor is that people remember where candidates campaign. If you campaign hard in the Midwest and Great Lakes in the primary, that is worth a lot to many voters in the general. Obama lost Missouri to McCain by 1%. Most Democratic candidates come here once or twice. Imagine a candidate spending 10-15 days here doing 20-40 events. Especially in mid sized towns vs STL and KC and maybe a rally as Mizzou. Further there are regional effects. Campaigning heavily in surrounding states impacts Iowa and New Hampshire. Bernie need to run an outside the box primary campaign to signal that he is serious about his outside the box plan for the presidency.


The 50 State Strategy: Iowa And New Hampshire Are For Newbies

Candidate Attention Is a Valuable And Scarce Resource

Its very important to understand that the vast majority of states do not get a lot of candidate money or attention. I have met people in Iowa who have gone to 80 events a campaign season for 10 seasons, which is 40 years of events. 800 events meeting 100 candidates over that time. Iowa and New Hampshire arguably get more campaign events and candidate visits than the entire rest of the country. Add in the other early states, Nevada and South Carolina, and this is definitively true. These states are supersaturated, every 4 years with ad cash candidate time and canvassing. A dollar goes a lot farther on Montana or Utah or Wyoming, or even Missouri or Alabama or Kentucky, than it does in one of these states.

Bernie needs to win pluralities in Iowa and New Hampshire to be on pace to get 50% of the vote and prevent a contested convention but he doesn’t need to win outright there. His policies are popular in these states, all the voters are aware of him, and he has huge ground operations there. Given his 100 days and 40 million dollars invested in these states combined a smart candidate would distribute that time and money elsewhere in 2020.

Spending Time In Iowa Is Overrated For A Front Runner Who Is Assured Of 20% Of The Vote

10 days each in Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Oklahoma would be worth far more than 50 days in Iowa. 44 delegates vs 414 delegates. These are mostly bigger states that cost more to run ads in but, as we discussed, ads are a low quality option for a front runner with massive on the ground support. 10 days is approximately 20 events, compared with the 3 or 4 events leading candidates engaged in in Missouri in 2016. Missouri only had offices for 2 weeks and yet Bernie almost won. Bernie needs to win these states with around 60% of the delegates, ~50-55% of the vote, to win nationally. Going from 50% of the delegates to 55% is 21 delegates.

These 5 states will be relatively uncontested in 2020 just as they were in 2016. Sanders won or barely lost these states against the united power of the Clinton Democratic party. They all have favorable demographics for him as well. All of them but Oklahoma border on Iowa as well so his efforts will bleed into the news there. There is a decent amount of regional correlation such that he will get an indirect boost in Iowa.

New Hampshire Is Just As Oversold As Iowa

Bernie could spend his 50 New Hampshire days in Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Connecticut and Delaware. These were all good states for Bernie besides Maryland and they account for 275 delegates to 24 from New Hampshire. Aside from perhaps Warren in Massachusetts these states will not be heavily contested. Harris and Booker will focus in the South, Castro in the Southwest, and maybe Klobuchar in the Midwest and Mountain states. Warren is his biggest issue in the Northeast. Ideally she gets out before Super Tuesday but if she doesn’t take a big hit in Massachusetts, where she did not significantly outperform the state fundamentals in her Senate election, would be very helpful to get her to a post Super Tuesday exit.

Massachusetts and Maine border New Hampshire, which is why Boston mayor Marty Walsh was a big surrogate for Hillary in New Hampshire in 2016, while Connecticut is one state away. These states have a basic regional affinity as well. A 5% boost in these states, vs spending the same resources in NH where you are competing against a dozen candidates, is worth 14 delegates. Realistically to have a 14 delegate lead in NH you’d need 60% of the vote in a super competitive state.

First In Last Out Isn’t Just For Programming

One thing most people don’t consider is that when you are the first on the air and on the ground you can build positive engagement without worry about negative attacks coming at you. The first mover bonus as far as demonstrating commitment to voters is large, and you get to define the terms of the fight. Voters will look at where you campaign in the primary and also compare that in the general to see if you are authentic and sincere in your actions.

Bernie could arguably gain a boost in delegates greater than the total delegate count of Iowa and New Hampshire by competing in surrounding states that typically receive little attention. Every candidate has the same number of days to allocate to the race. There is a huge advantage in strategic use of your time. If all the other candidates are blowing time, and cash, in the same state, that will split a lot of the vote. When you have a core level of support in every single state sufficient to break the 15% threshold, you have a ton of options as far as where you spend time which opponents with weaker support and minimal national name recognition don’t have.

The 50 State Strategy: When Bernie Is The Frontrunner

Senator Bernie Sanders is the frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic primary race. Don’t believe anyone who tells you different. He leads the prediction markets on average, he is tied or leading in the polls and he is just leading, big time, if Biden doesn’t run. He has the most donors, volunteers, and cash. So its time for him to look at the choice Hillary Clinton made in 2016 and go the other way. Clinton shoved all her resources into Iowa and New Hampshire and this cost her a ton of delegates in other states. Meanwhile Bernie lost Iowa by 0.2% and won New Hampshire by 23%.

Senator Bernie Sanders spent $40 million in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2016. He campaigned 50 days in each state. As a Missouri volunteer I spent more time in Iowa than my own state. Multiple weekends plus 7 days in the run up to caucus night. We got a whole 2 weeks to campaign in Missouri once the office opened and we got on the canvassing app. That was fine in 2016 when Bernie needed to get cheap news headlines and build name recognition. It is a terrible strategy for the candidate with a massive national profile and piles of small donor cash.

Bernie Sanders is on track to raise $400 million dollars in 2020. He got $228 million in 2016. Bernie made $14 mil in Q2, $30 mil  in Q3, and $37 mil in Q4 of 2015, the year comparable to 2019 this time around. We are one month into Q1 of 2019 and Bernie has raised $14 mil in fresh cash, once we get the most recent totals, and he had $14 mil in the bank already. We have an extra three months of fundraising and we are already way ahead of the game. I’ve been saving up to max out this time, compared to last time, and to do it much earlier. I know I’m not alone.

Bernie needs to have at least 1 office in every state and every city over 100k people before Q2 is over. That’s roughly 300 offices when you account for crossover. Assuming a salary of $50000 a year, which totals out to ~$75000 per staffer by the end of the campaign before GE fundraising kicks in, Bernie could hire 3000 full time staffers for the whole campaign and still have tons of cash for senior staff, offices. Note that as primaries start to happen over the 5 month voting period you can start moving staffers to other places. You have 60 staffers a state on average, perhaps you do 2 staffers per 100k population in smaller states, so 10 in Wyoming, to 60 in Iowa, and then you take a small hit in the bigger states, but efficiency scales with size. You could also just hire an extra 1000 if you needed to.

Paying staffers provides a lot of benefits over pure ad spending when you are a progressive grass roots campaign. You are training new activists and organizers on the job, although to some degree people on a presidential campaign will already have some qualifications, you are allowing progressives to change our political system without a second job, you are throwing millions to large corporations and a media which dislikes you, this money can be donated to your campaign, I believe, but definitely to other campaigns including House and Senate candidates and state candidates to help you get support for your agenda, and other second order bonuses like that. With 3000 staffers plus the associated offices and other infrastructure you are in a position to knock on every relevant door as often as it takes.

3000 staffers could knock on 30 million doors by themselves. Or they could organize your army of 1.5-3 million volunteers to knock on every potential voter’s door 5-10 times. You can reach even marginal voters because you have so much on the ground canvassing power. There has been no Democratic primary in which more than 40 million people have voted. You have power to spare and the organization to use it well.

Ad spend is typically used to build name rec and campaign awareness. It costs a ton of money and a ton of that money goes to the ad buyer, Tad Devine in 2016. He made millions. No supporter wants to donate to enrich him and major media. Also Bernie has name rec. On top of this when you are knocking on every door 10 times because of your massive grassroots army, name rec is not a big deal.

I’ll be doing at least 20 posts on the 50 state strategy. One more is going up right after this. Bernie needs to fight for every single delegate. So many candidates don’t have the cash to compete nationally. Advantage Bernie.