CLINTON, Iowa — Moderate Iowa Democrats, including those who support Joe Biden’s bid for president, say they would definitely vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders if he wins the party’s nomination, even as the Democratic Party establishment becomes increasingly concerned about the chances of a Sanders win.
“I would vote for my dead cat over Trump,” said Sandy Stanley, 71, at a Biden campaign stop in Muscatine, Iowa. Stanley said she doesn’t like Sanders but wouldn’t hesitate to vote for him if he does become the nominee.
“I think he’s too divisive and I’m afraid he wouldn't win over a lot of independents and moderate Republicans, so I'm hoping he doesn't get it. But Trump, anyone but Trump,” she said, adding that she’s leaning toward Sen. Amy Klobuchar or Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but is also open to Biden. She said she’s also voted for Republicans a few times in the past.
More than two dozen voters at six Biden campaign events across Iowa who said they’re seriously considering or committed to caucusing for the former vice president told BuzzFeed News they would support Sanders if he’s the nominee, even if he’s their last choice now among the Democrats running for president because his views are too far to the left.
“I have supported Joe Biden for decades. I’ve always been real comfortable with him,” said Carol Davis, 58, who plans to be a precinct captain for Biden in her caucus next week. “I will vote for any Democrat in the general election. I am not a Bernie fan, but yes, I’ll support him.”
“I would vote for him” if Sanders becomes the nominee, said Dick Huber, 67, at the same event.
“Begrudgingly,” he added.
One major counterpoint moderate candidates have made against Sanders is that he would turn off moderates and independents, making it harder for a Democrat to defeat Trump. That argument goes to the “electability” issue voters in Iowa have been bringing up since the start of the primary — an idea that’s hard to pin down and varies from person to person, but which all the frontrunner campaigns have tried to play to with messages about how they’ll unify Democrats and turn out voters.
The Sanders campaign has argued that the senator can motivate young voters to turn out in larger numbers, as he did in 2016. At least in Iowa, older moderates at Biden events, too, said they would back Sanders against Trump if it came down to it.
At a campaign stop in Muscatine on Tuesday, a reporter asked Biden, “Will the party unite behind Bernie if he's the nominee? The whole party?”
“We have to,” Biden said, before continuing. “I'm not gonna make judgments now but I just think that it depends upon how we treat one another between now and the time we have a nominee.”
Biden and Sanders have been engaged in a series of policy scuffles, going after each other's records on war votes and Social Security. That’s become particularly heated in the past few weeks, as Sanders has pulled ahead of Biden on multiple polls in early voting states, with the two candidates distancing themselves from the pack in some national polls.
Factions of the Democratic Party establishment are increasingly pushing the message that Democratic voters are scared of a Sanders presidency. A group of Democratic operatives are discussing organizing an effort to go after Sanders, the Daily Beast reported, though they have not so far managed to garner support from major Democratic donors and institutions.
“The more that Bernie Sanders rises, the more — and I see this very much now happening already among my activist Democratic friends — the more people are getting scared about a Bernie Sanders candidacy,” former Obama administration official and Wall Street financier Steven Rattner told MSNBC on Tuesday.
Other candidates, including former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, are using concerns about Sanders turning off moderates, especially in swing districts down the ballot, in fundraising appeals and on the trail.
“If things stay steady until the Iowa Caucuses in just nine days, Bernie Sanders could be the nominee of our party,” one Buttigieg fundraising email said.
Sanders himself is playing up the concerns as a sign of his momentum. “We are taking on the Democratic establishment, and all across the country, let me tell you that the big money interests are getting very nervous. They’re looking at recent polls in New Hampshire and in Iowa and they’re saying ‘Oh my god, Sanders can win,’” he told a crowd of 1,400 in Ames on Saturday night.
Supporters at the Biden events, on his final swing through Iowa in the lead-up to the state’s first in the nation caucuses next Tuesday, mostly say they’re not in favor of Medicare for All and would have concerns about Sanders’ ability to get legislation passed through Congress.
But after the animosity between Hillary Clinton and Sanders supporters in the 2016 primary, former supporters of both at Biden events say the imperative to beat Trump has tamped down the intensity of factional rivalries — with a general consensus that any Democrat is better than Trump.
Even for some who still harbor bitterness over the 2016 primary, Trump has changed the equation. A few former Clinton supporters said Sanders didn’t do enough to back Clinton after the primaries in 2016, and they blamed his supporters for not turning out in large enough numbers for her. But they say they will vote for him over Trump if Sanders becomes the nominee.
“If Sanders would have bucked up, she would have been our president,” said Pam Miller, 69, at the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Monday evening.
This year, she said, she’ll “vote for any Democrat” who wins the nomination, because “[Trump] is a frightening president.”
“Many Bernie Sanders supporters did not support Hillary, and I think that’s one of the reasons why she didn’t win,” said Michael Horland, 69, who’s canvassing for Biden and supported Clinton in 2016. He said he’d be willing to back Sanders against Trump.
“Any Democrat that does not support the candidate does not have the country’s best interests at heart,” he said.
“I do believe this is the guy who’s going to get rid of that a-hole,” Norm Holle, 76, said of Biden’s chances of defeating Trump, at a campaign stop in Clinton, on Tuesday. But, he said, “I’d vote for any Democrat who’s nominated,” he said.
Roberta Martinson, 59, was at a Biden event in Marion with her husband on Monday. She said her number one choice was Klobuchar, but she has doubts about whether she will garner enough support to make it through the caucus process — so she’s seriously considering Biden. She said she and her husband are against Medicare for All. But if Sanders becomes the nominee, that wouldn’t stop them from voting for him.
“We would vote for a rock if it wasn’t Trump,” said Martinson.
Craig Meltz, 66, said he’s concerned about a lot of Sanders’ progressive policies, but would also vote for him in a general election against Trump. “One saving grace is that anything he proposes still should go through the Congress and that would be a break on him,” he said, if Sanders does win the White House.
Other moderate Democrats who are torn between supporting Biden and Klobuchar agreed that despite their disagreements with him, Sanders would definitely have their support if he wins the nomination.
“I would vote for the devil himself if he ran against Trump,” said Alison Gaynor, 66, at the University of Iowa event on Monday. “I think we learned something from last time.”