Bernie’s Online Donors Strike Back Against Clinton Attacks

Clearly concerned about slipping poll numbers in Iowa, Hillary Clinton’s campaign went after Bernie Sanders this week, attacking him over past gun-control votes and his health care proposals. Going negative always risks blowback, but when you’re trying to put political hurt on someone with an army of grassroots supporters, the reflected pain may be monetary. In this case, Bernie’s small donors immediately ponied up more than a million dollars online, boosting his daily take four-fold:

Sanders’s underdog campaign said it is seeing a surge of contributions as a direct result of the new attention it is getting from the Democratic front-runner, with money coming in at a clip nearly four times the average daily rate reported in the last quarter of 2015.

In its email appeals for money, the campaign accused the Clinton campaign of making “vicious and coordinated attacks” on Sanders’s health-care plan, which calls for a government-run system. Sanders’s strategists are also considering rolling out advertising beyond the early-contest states where it is airing spots now.

The advertising angle is noteworthy, since we often think of “insurgent” candidates as relying on tools other than TV ads. But Sanders has built a powerful base of small-dollar donors willing to give to him again and again, putting him at near parity financially with Clinton’s campaign. An ominous story she’s heard before! Some reports point to his TV spending as a cause of his Iowa surge, and it looks now likely that he’ll be able to keep ads running well into the spring.

Another echo of recent history: when Sarah Palin went after Obama and his supporters in her 2008 Republican convention acceptance speech, the Democrats raised $10 million almost instantly, with money flowing in before they’d even had time to get out an email. Of course, no one has voted for any 2016 candidate yet, and Sanders’s strong support might not travel far beyond Iowa and New Hampshire. Even in Iowa, poll numbers matter less than organization, and Clinton hasn’t been skimping on that front.

My prediction at this moment, for what it’s worth: Bernie wins narrowly in Iowa and solidly in New Hampshire, causing the pundit class to collectively orgasm in political delight. But he doesn’t win again for weeks, once the primaries move into more diverse states like South Carolina and Nevada. A healthy scenario for Hillary if it plays out that way, since a competitive process will force her campaign to sharpen its political teeth and build out the state-by-state apparatus she’ll need in the Fall. Anybody want to put $5 on it?

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