Sanders ad with Obama raises eyebrows

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 is embracing former President Obama in a new video that underscores the Vermont independent’s need to win over black voters.

The video, which shows the former president with his arm around Sanders walking into the Oval Office, was released after the Vermont senator was routed by 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 in a series of Super Tuesday primaries where Biden handily won the African American vote. 

The ad includes a passage from a 2016 interview Obama gave to journalist Glenn Thrush for Politico in which he said Sanders has the virtue of “saying what he believes, great authenticity, great passion, and is fearless.”


It also includes audio of then-Sen. Obama saying that Sanders is someone who will fight for people, a clip taken from a speech delivered while he campaigned for Sanders and another congressional candidate in 2006. 

And it concludes with video of Obama saying at the 2016 Democratic convention that people should “feel the Bern.” Obama’s speech was aimed at getting all Democrats to back the party’s presidential 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 after a bitter primary.

The ad’s message is clear: Sanders is a strong ally of Obama, an argument that could help Sanders improve his standing with black voters. 

But former Obama officials and Biden supporters have ripped it for suggesting a false closeness between the former president and Sanders, whom Biden’s team has criticized for contemplating a primary challenge in 2012 against Obama.

“It reeks of desperation,” said one former Obama White House aide who is unaffiliated with any campaign. “Does he want to claim he served as Obama’s VP too?” 

A second aide who worked for Obama added, “I know everyone wants to cozy up to him but it seems so obvious what Bernie is trying to do and it seems dishonest. He’s spent most of this campaign slamming Obama policies and the status quo.”


Sanders has frequently attacked Obama’s policies and his leadership. In 2017, he slammed a $400,000 speaking fee the former president received for speaking at a conference and called it “distasteful.” He has said ObamaCare — his administration’s signature legislation — doesn’t do enough and he even thought about posing a primary challenge to Obama in 2012, The Atlantic reported last month.

The ad has made the rounds on cable news networks since it began airing on Wednesday with journalists and pundits questioning the strategy. 

On Thursday, MSNBC anchor Craig Melvin called the spot “misleading.” 

“How is it not disingenuous?” Melvin asked Sanders’s Deputy Campaign Manager Ari Rabin-Havt. 

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“How it is disingenuous? They are his words about Bernie Sanders. How is that disingenuous?” the Sanders aide responded. 

To be sure, most of the Democratic candidates this year have tried to telegraph a closeness with Obama. 

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg touted his relationship with the former president in an ad last month. Biden has also built his campaign largely around the fact that he was Obama’s vice president. 

And he has benefitted from his close connection to black voters, observers say. 

“While Biden has not been a steady champion of black issues throughout his extensive political career, he is well known to black southern voters,” said Clemmie Harris, an assistant professor of American history and Africana studies at Utica College. “Biden benefits from his relationship as VP to Obama, the latter of whom remains the most popular Democrat and arguably the most popular President in the modern era of US political history.”

Harris said Sanders has struggled with black voters so far because he’s failed “to explain to their satisfaction how his social policy proscriptions would become implemented policies, especially healthcare and free higher education.”

Other commentators predicted the ad would do little to help Sanders with black voters. 

“The video is meant to connect Sanders to the standard bearer of the Democratic Party and to the African American community ahead of the next primaries which heavily feature black voters,” said Basil Smikle, who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party. “For a candidate who’s railed against the establishment and struggled to attract more black voters, the ad will be ineffective.” 

Democratic strategist Joel Payne, who served as the director of African American paid media on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, said the problem for Sanders is that he did criticize Obama — a point Biden and his team have railed upon. 

“Sanders needs mainstream ‘Obama Democrats’ which includes African Americans to broaden his base of support,” Payne said. “What complicates this is that Sanders was one of Obama’s more vocal critics within the progressive movement during his presidency. 

Sanders during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Rachel MaddowRachel Anne MaddowWebb: The modern age of dissent versus riot Cable news audience numbers jump amid coronavirus, protests Demings: ‘America is on fire’ and Trump ‘is walking around with gasoline’ MORE Show” on Wednesday night acknowledged he’s not close with Obama. 

“I’m not going to tell you he’s my best friend,” Sanders said. “But I talk to him every now and then, but I have a lot of respect for him. Do we have disagreements? Of course we have.” 

Detailing one conversation he had with Obama before he entered the Democratic primary, Sanders said Obama told him he wouldn’t get involved in the race until someone wins the nomination. 

“And he kept his word,” Sanders said. 

“I know that there’s enormous pressure on him to support Biden,” he said before adding, “The fact that he’s not doing that makes me respect him even more.”