But few in the caucus are predicting the electoral doom that you might hear from their colleagues in the House if Sanders ends up coming out on top in the primary. Summing up the mood of House Democrats running in Trump-won districts with Sanders atop the ticket, Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) put it this way earlier this month: “We’re going to get absolutely wiped out.”
“I hope I’m wrong, but Bernie seems to have declared war on the Democratic Party,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), a centrist Democrat who has endorsed former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. “To win in November, we need someone who will bring us together under a big tent and protect the Democratic majority in the House — not burn the house down.”
That handwringing is enough for Sanders to send out a text message on Monday claiming that “the establishment is in full panic mode.” But such sentiment is not felt in the halls of the Senate, which effectively remains the power center of the establishment of both parties.
“I’m not part of the collective freakout, if that’s what you’re asking,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who chaired the campaign committees for Democrats in both the House and Senate.
In interviews with more than a dozen Democratic senators on Monday, the majority said Sanders was not the electoral anchor that critics are making him out to be. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said were he to emerge from the long primary as the nominee, Sanders “steals” some voters from Trump’s base: “He is getting a lot of people riled up and he does take some of [Trump’s] votes.
“I absolutely think Bernie can beat Trump,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who said several of the other Democrats in the race could also win a general election. “He’s done very well, I think his coalition is real and it’s impressive. But it’s got to stand up to more than just three elections.”
Both Murphy and Cantwell, like many of their colleagues, said with 47 states, the District of Columbia and several territories to go, it was too early to say that Sanders is now the presumptive nominee. But some Democrats are already mobilizing against Sanders amid worries that the anti-Sanders vote is currently fractured among Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Bloomberg.
On Monday, Sanders faced a torrent of attacks from Florida Democrats for praising Cuba’s literacy rates under former communist leader Fidel Castro. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a Cuban American, said of Sanders: “If that’s going to be his foreign policy … then we’re doomed at the end of the day.”
“Those who live in my state suffered enormously under the regime, the more than a million people who fled. I’m sure they all think that the literacy program was worth all of that,” Menendez said.