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There is increasing pressure and questions surrounding Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-VT) 2020 presidential campaign. Those who are focused on getting Donald Trump out of office in November don't want a battle between the senator and former Vice President Joe Biden — they want to save the battle for Trump.
Additionally, the country is busy trying to fight its way through the coronavirus pandemic, and that has a greater focus now. Yet some of Sanders's top aides and allies, including his campaign manager and longtime strategist, are encouraging him to drop out from the Democratic race now, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.
Campaign manager Faiz Shakir is encouraging him to withdrawal from the race, as is Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), an ally and top surrogate for Sanders.
One of the insiders believes Sanders has become more open to the possibility of ending his campaign. He was thought to be especially considering it if he lost by a large margin to Biden in the Wisconsin primary, and polls were suggesting he would. However, at the 11th hour, in-person voting in the state is still up in the air due to coronavirus concerns. The governor has rescheduled it, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court refuses to abide by his decision.
Longtime strategist Jeff Weaver believes Sanders should leave the race sooner rather than later while still on good terms with Biden, as it would give him more leverage, according to one of the sources.
Sanders has not yet made a decision, while other allies are privately urging him to stay in the race. These include national campaign co-chair Nina Turner and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). Longtime ally Larry Cohen, the chair of a nonprofit Sanders is aligned with, is publicly suggesting he stay in the race until the Democratic National Convention.
For the most part, Sanders's advisers who have stronger ties to the Democrat party are suggesting he withdraw, while independent activists are pushing for him to stay.
Cohen would like him to stay in it. "Millions of people are counting on him to be on the ballot so they can vote for that alternative vision that they support," he said. "And if he was not on the ballot, they will feel abandoned."
One of the insiders believes Sanders is considering dropping out fairly soon since he hasn't been able to get any further ahead in the race and knew he was possibly looking at a big loss in Wisconsin. He won the state against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton four years ago. A source suggested that if he loses Wisconsin by more than 15 points, he'll probably drop out at that point and support Biden.
There are concerns other than Wisconsin, however, from some in the campaign about the criticism Sanders is getting as he's seen as a spoiler who will make it more difficult for the Democrats to beat Trump. They also think it will put a different spin on the race that has been stagnant while the country is fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
Close associates of Sanders have said for some time that he and his wife Jane Sanders will make the ultimate decision jointly. He also believes that people in his movement should be consulted, according to one of the insiders.
He appeared on MSNBC on Friday and said he was acutely aware of how much he was trailing Biden and was taking a "hard look" at what the future had in store for him. A few days earlier he told Seth Myers, hosting his late-night NBC talk show from his home, that he still saw a "narrow path" to winning the nomination.
After the last primaries that were held on March 17, campaign officials said Sanders would be assessing the road going forward and consulting with close allies. With most of the remaining states delaying their primaries because of virus concerns, it has given him the time to consider all the angles.
Sanders, like Biden, has shifted the focus of his campaign away from the race and toward the coronavirus pandemic. He has argued that this is why his Medicare-for-all plan is needed. He's been holding roundtable discussions online and raising money for charities.
Yet still, polls show Biden has a large enough lead over Sanders. A survey in Wisconsin showed him trailing the former veep by 28 points. It's showing many that he doesn't have the support he had four years ago.
At the same time, Biden was on a roll when he defeated Sanders by large numbers in Michigan and Illinois. He's lost some of that momentum but is trying to gain it back by making appearances on TV and holding press briefings in his home.
He told campaign donors on Friday that he had spoken to Sanders about his plans to move forward with his campaign, such as choosing a vice presidential running mate.
"He's a friend. I don't want him to think I'm being presumptuous, but you have to start now deciding who you're going to have background checks done on as potential vice presidential candidates, and it takes time," explained Biden.
At a virtual fundraiser, Biden was asked whether Sanders would concede and back him and replied that their staffs had been in touch and noted: "whether Bernie gets out or stays in remains to be seen." He also mentioned that COVID-19 "is making things more complicated for him and everyone else."
Some worry that by remaining in the race, it could bring up the party divisions that were seen in 2016. Sanders's supporters refused to back Clinton. Yet, he and Biden have a better relationship, and there is hope there will be greater cooperation.
The Democratic National Convention was originally scheduled for July, but the coronavirus pandemic has pushed it off to starting on August 17.
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