Could a Sanders-Warren Ticket Work?

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — It is still raining.

For the last three hours, Democratic Party faithful have been standing in a line that wraps all the way around and then behind the Charleston Music Hall. These primary voters have come to hear Elizabeth Warren and listen to the music of singer John Legend, one of her biggest celebrity backers. But the venue is at capacity, and many can’t get in the door. The crowd groans.

Then a ray of sunshine: the Massachusetts senator pops out from a fire exit to say a few words to her sodden supporters outside, and the Grammy Award-winning singer follows. The crowd cheers.

Warren needs all the cheers she can get. Charleston’s dreary rain is an apt metaphor for what’s been coming down on the candidate since Iowa, where she placed a disappointing third, slipping to fourth in both New Hampshire and Nevada. Things haven’t looked much better here in the Palmetto State, where voting ends Saturday. She polls in the single digits.

But there could be a silver lining: A possible VP nod from current front-runner Bernie Sanders. That is, of course, if that Vermont senator wins the nomination.

“I think that would be ideal,” said one voter. “It’d be awesome,” added another. “Kickass,” concluded a third. Is she even interested in a progressive super ticket though? Warren won’t comment.

The campaign did not return inquiries from RealClearPolitics, and that is not surprising. Candidates don’t like speculating about consolation prizes while still competing. But the possibility of a progressive super ticket is real, according to a national pollster and other analysts. Zogby Analytics has a Sanders-Warren ticket beating President Trump and Vice President Pence 48% to 45%.

“It shows a little bit of vulnerability [for Trump] at a time when he's doing pretty well,” said Jonathan Zogby after noting that Trump has watched his approval ratings tick up after impeachment. All the same, the pollster told RCP, the president “is beatable,” and Sanders-Warren could do it.

Others agree. In January, Democratic activist and filmmaker Michael Moore urged Warren and Sanders to share delegates and run on the same ticket, and D.D. Guttenplan wrote about the viability of such a progressive ticket in The Nation. 

The pair of progressives has already won the argument on the left, as ideas such as “Medicare for All” and free college, once considered too extreme, have become party orthodoxy for a growing segment of Democrats. “There's definitely this ideological war right now,” Zogby said. “And it seems to me, the progressives are winning right now.” Only Sanders is winning with voters, though, while Warren is at risk of being left behind.

The vice presidency could be her next best option. Positive polling on the question certainly doesn’t hurt. “It brings a little bit of new life to her campaign because it's going to be pretty tough for her to stick around,” Zogby added. “I think it gives her another avenue, another strategy.”

Sanders has at least considered the idea. According to a report by the Intercept, the democratic socialist wondered whether a vice president could also serve simultaneously as treasury secretary. Nothing in the Constitution prevents multiple job titles, and in December, Sanders thought the dual role might be a good fit for Warren.

Then a civil war broke out between the progressives. Warren said that Sanders told her a woman couldn’t win the presidency during a private conversation. He said she wasn’t telling the truth. The claim was an ugly crack in the unspoken détente between the progressives that spilled into prime time. After the Iowa debate, she wouldn’t shake his hand. Hostilities continue. 

It was no accident that Warren went after Sanders in the South Carolina debate. Yes, they share a lot of the same ideas. But “No,” she said, he would not make “a better president.” Why? “Getting a progressive agenda enacted is going to be really hard, and it's going to take someone who digs into the details to make it happen,” Warren said at Tuesday’s debate  She built the coalition, Warren said on stage, and she won the fight to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But when she released a plan to pay for another progressive cause, Medicare for All, the candidate complained that “Bernie’s team trashed me for it.”

The aggression wasn’t isolated, either. The next day at a CNN town hall, Warren slammed Sanders for seeking unfair “advantage” ahead of the Democratic National Convention. He says the candidate with a plurality of delegates should win the nomination. She accused him of trying to ignore the rules which require a majority. “I didn't write them,” Warren told a Sanders supporter, “but Bernie did.” 

Patching things up between the two isn’t impossible, according to some. “I’m all for it,” Belvin Olason told RCP at a Sanders rally in North Charleston. He doesn’t mind Warren’s attacks and said he could tolerate “a certain amount of politicking because she is trying to win the nomination.”

Olason, a community organizer from the area, said the only problem he sees with a Warren vice presidency would be losing another “progressive voice in the Senate.” Otherwise it makes sense because “Warren is my second choice, as I’m sure she is for a lot of Sanders voters.” Plus, Olason added, “There is less bad blood between her and Hillary voters, so that would be helpful for a general election.”

Many supporters echo that sentiment. A handful, including Alethea Shapiro from New York, who has travelled from state to state helping canvass for Sanders, “would rather see a woman of color as his VP.”

A prominent progressive strategist, speaking on condition of anonymity, agreed with that assessment before acknowledging that Sanders-Warren “would be the dream ticket.” The only better option, the strategist said, would be Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “if it were constitutionally possible.”

Ocasio-Cortez is 30 years old, and the constitutional age requirement for vice presidents is 35. Meanwhile, Sanders is 78. He would be the oldest president ever. And his age and his health record, another Democratic strategist told RCP, makes his VP pick “the most consequential in history.”

“Given Bernie’s age and his heart attack,” the strategist added, again on condition of anonymity, “it’s very probable that the next VP becomes president in the near future.”

Sanders, of course, still has to get the nomination. Warren could help him win over Kathie Davidson, an undecided voter from Mt. Pleasant. “Bernie tends to be this great big personality,” the retired respiratory therapist told RCP while waiting in the rain. “I think that Elizabeth Warren can discuss policy in a calm way, and she isn’t just saying things. She has a plan.”

Huddling under umbrellas outside the music hall, Warren supporters were animated when asked about the vice presidency. They point out that Sanders hasn’t won anything yet, and they think she can still win. They also won’t close the door on a progressive super ticket. Hannah, a college student from Columbia who declined to give her last name, said she “absolutely” likes the idea. She called Warren "a strong candidate" who's “fearless and a powerhouse.”

“It just makes me really proud to see her running,” Hannah added, just before the Charleston fire marshal announced the venue was full and that those waiting outside wouldn't be allowed in to escape the rain.

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