Republican lawmakers are surprised and disappointed by the results of Super Tuesday, which firmly re-established former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination and dealt Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.) a major setback.
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Republican senators conceded Wednesday they would rather face Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, as the opposing nominee, instead of Biden, whom they consider more mainstream and tougher to draw a contrast with.
In the battle for the Senate, Republicans would like to tie Democratic candidates to Sanders and socialism, and generally see Biden as a stronger candidate. Similarly, Democrats were uneasy about Sanders as their standard-bearer, and Biden has made this a point of attack on the campaign trail, arguing he would help Democrats take back the Senate.
“I think Bernie is the easiest to contrast with. Biden would be a little harder to contrast with,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op MORE (R-S.C.). “Truly, I think it’s better for us for Bernie to be the nominee in terms of down-ballot.”
The day after Biden’s big wins, Democrats received the welcome news that Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockKoch-backed group launches ad campaign to support four vulnerable GOP senators Overnight Energy: US Park Police say ‘tear gas’ statements were ‘mistake’ | Trump to reopen area off New England coast for fishing | Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues in battle to save seats MORE is poised to enter the race against Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Koch-backed group launches ad campaign to support four vulnerable GOP senators OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior faces legal scrutiny for keeping controversial acting leaders in office | White House faces suit on order lifting endangered species protections | Lawmakers seek investigation of Park Police after clearing of protesters MORE (R-Mont.). Bullock would be a huge recruit for Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerOvernight Health Care: US showing signs of retreat in battle against COVID-19 | Regeneron begins clinical trials of potential coronavirus antibody treatment | CMS warns nursing homes against seizing residents’ stimulus checks Schumer requests briefing with White House coronavirus task force as cases rise Schumer on Trump’s tweet about 75-year-old protester: He ‘should go back to hiding in the bunker’ MORE (D-N.Y.).
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote GOP senator to try to reverse requirement that Pentagon remove Confederate names from bases No, ‘blue states’ do not bail out ‘red states’ MORE (R-Ky.) said last year he wanted to make the 2020 election a “referendum on socialism,” a plan that would be helped immensely if Democrats nominate Sanders, who advocates for “Medicare for All,” free college, student debt forgiveness and a wealth tax.
With Biden re-emerging as the favorite to win the Democratic nomination, GOP lawmakers acknowledge 2020 is likely to be more of a referendum on President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE.
Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants Louisville passes ‘Breonna’s Law’ banning no-knock warrants Rand Paul aide joins Trump campaign, RNC fundraising group MORE (R-Ky.) called Biden the “safe pick” for Democrats. He said Sanders was “an easier target because he admits his socialism.”
Other Democratic candidates “believe in most of the things he believes in, but they don’t call themselves socialists,” he added.
GOP lawmakers thought they even had a chance of winning the House with Sanders as the Democratic nominee. Now that hope is fast fading, according to a GOP senator who requested anonymity to assess the presidential race.
“Anybody who wants the president to have an easier time with reelection, I think Sanders clearly helps that outcome,” said the Republican senator.
He said the speculation among Republicans on Capitol Hill on Wednesday morning was “if it’s not Sanders, Republicans probably don’t get the House back.”
“If it is Biden, that makes it a different outcome in the House,” the lawmaker added. “I don’t think the country is at all close to where Sanders is.”
It’s possible the GOP conventional wisdom, which is shared by much of the Democratic establishment, is wrong and Sanders would be a stronger candidate in the general election than Biden. Democrats in 2016, after all, thought Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE would defeat Trump.
Republicans also said that the primary fight between Sanders and Biden could leave the Democrats scarred. Several predicted the primary will drag on into the July convention.
“It doesn’t mean the Sanders folks all fall into line. They didn’t last time. He’s pretty out there,” one senator added.
Republican senators think a protracted fight for the nomination will force Biden to tack further to the left than he might otherwise think optimal for the general election.
Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP senator to try to reverse requirement that Pentagon remove Confederate names from bases Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names The Hill’s Morning Report – Treasury, Fed urge more spending, lending to ease COVID-19 wreckage MORE (S.D.) said that GOP leaders will still try to slap the socialism label on Biden.
“There’s a lot of their primary process ahead and I think it’s probably going to be very contested and very contentious, I suspect, between Biden and Bernie,” he said. “All of the candidates have been pushed in the same direction. I think that they’ve been pushed pretty much to the far left.”
“To ultimately win the nomination, you’re going to have to take some very far-left positions,” he added.
But Democratic candidates in Senate battleground states are breathing a sigh of relief after Biden’s strong Super Tuesday showing.
Sara Gideon, the Democratic Speaker of the Maine statehouse, revealed Wednesday that she voted for Biden after previously declining to take a position in the presidential race.
Her opponent, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsRepublicans prepare to punt on next COVID-19 relief bill Trump tweets spark fresh headache for Republicans Trump’s tweet on protester sparks GOP backlash MORE (R-Maine), by contrast, has declined to say whether she’ll support Trump’s reelection.
Gideon praised Biden as the candidate “most able to bring the country together and to look into the future to address all the changes we face.”
Even with Biden back in the spotlight for the Democratic nomination, Republican lawmakers say they still feel good about the upcoming election.
Graham said, “I just believe this is Trump’s election to lose if the economy hangs in there.”
“If you’re a Democrat, you got to be worried about a brokered convention now because I don’t think Bernie’s going to go away. You’re not going to have a clear winner, I think,” he said.
Paul said Biden, despite his recent string of victories, has revealed himself to be an unsteady public speaker and weak debater.
Biden at a Monday rally in Dallas struggled to remember the opening of the Declaration of Independence and almost urged his voters to turn out on “Super Thursday” before quickly correcting himself.
“Have you ever seen a national candidate or nominee stumble over so many words and putting sentences together? I think he’s really struggling. I think Trump will make mincemeat of him in a debate,” Paul said.