Bernie Sanders calls race against Joe Biden ‘conflict of ideas’ after dismal Super Tuesday; Elizabeth Warren weighs campaign future

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Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Wednesday described his opponent Joe Biden as a 'decent human being' but said he's ready to take him on in a 'neck and neck' race to clinch the Democratic nomination.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden won 10 of the 14 states that voted on Super Tuesday and opened up a delegate lead over fellow candidate Bernie Sanders, who won his home state of Vermont, along with California, Utah and Colorado. PHOTO: AFP

BURLINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Mr Bernie Sanders went on the offensive against Mr Joe Biden on Wednesday (March 5), framing the primary fight for the Democratic nomination as a "conflict of ideas" that pits his outsider campaign against the political status quo.

Speaking the day after a disappointing performance on Super Tuesday, Mr Sanders struck a defiant tone, railing against the political establishment and the media. He stuck closely to his core message and did not seek to moderate it to invite more supporters into his campaign.

"Joe and I have a very different voting record," Mr Sanders said at the news conference. "Joe and I have a very different vision for the future of this country. And Joe and I are running very different campaigns. And my hope is that in the coming months, we will be able to debate and discuss the very significant differences that we have."

Mr Sanders parsed Mr Biden's record, critiquing his support for the Iraq War and the Wall Street rescue during the 2008 financial crisis. He also highlighted their differences on health care - Mr Sanders supports Medicare for All and Mr Biden wants to add a public option. And he ticked off Mr Biden's past calls for cuts to entitlement programmes such as Social Security and Medicaid.

Mr Sanders, who is relying on grassroots donations to fund his campaign, said Mr Biden "is running a campaign that is heavily supported by the corporate establishment", adding that the former vice president is backed by "60 billionaires". The Vermont senator hit Mr Biden for his support of trade deals that he says have had "disastrous" impacts in the Midwest. Mr Sanders will be campaigning in Michigan this weekend, and he said Mr Biden will have to answer for his record on trade.

Mr Biden won 10 of the 14 states that voted on Super Tuesday and opened up a delegate lead over Mr Sanders, who won his home state of Vermont, along with California, Utah and Colorado. As final Super Tuesday results were coming in, Mr Biden had 512 delegates and Mr Sanders had 441.

Mr Sanders acknowledged he was disappointed in the results, particularly the campaign's struggle to bring new voters into the fold, something he has long argued he was best positioned to do.

Mr Sanders's progressive rival, Ms Elizabeth Warren, failed to win a single state, including her home state of Massachusetts. Mr Sanders said he spoke to her on Wednesday morning and she told him that she was still assessing her campaign's path forward.

Many progressives have criticised her decision to stay in the race and her failure to consolidate support with Mr Sanders after the moderate candidates coalesced behind Mr Biden. Mr Sanders did not say whether he asked for her support, but he and his campaign have been careful to not call for her exit.

Elizabeth Warren makes the shape of a heart with her hands as she speaks at a campaign rally in Detroit, Michigan. PHOTO: AFP

The Biden campaign has pushed for Democrats to unify and warned against Mr Sanders' aggressive campaigning style that left Mrs Hillary Clinton's team and others believing he damaged her for the general election against Republican rival Donald Trump.

"We've seen unfortunately the kind of campaigns that Bernie Sanders runs," deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told reporters on Wednesday. "We need to unite."

Mr Cedric Richmond, a Biden campaign co-chair and Louisiana congressman, warned "we can't divide this party like we did the last time", calling out Mr Sanders for releasing three negative ads on Mr Biden on Wednesday morning.

"As he rails against the establishment, I just didn't know that African Americans in the South were considered the establishment," he said.

Mr Sanders firmly rejected the notion that he would run a personal and nasty campaign.

"Joe is a decent guy and I do not want this campaign to generate into a Trump type effort where we are attacking each other, where it is personal attacks," Mr Sanders said. "That is the last thing this country wants."

However, one Sanders ad, featuring former President Barack Obama praising the candidate that was released on Wednesday morning, seemed especially aggressive to the Biden team, given that Mr Sanders was often critical of Mr Obama while he was in office and has attacked his administration's achievements as insufficient.

"As recent history has proven, no quantity of ads can rewrite history - and there's no substitute for genuinely having the back of the best president of our lifetimes," Mr Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said, hinting at the hundreds of millions of dollars that Mr Michael Bloomberg, who dropped out of the race Wednesday, and Mr Tom Steyer, who quit after the South Carolina primary, spent on advertising.

(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.) When asked about the new advertisement on Wednesday, Mr Sanders said he is not pretending that he and Mr Obama were "best friends", but he put out the advertisement to demonstrate his working relationship with the former president.

"I wanted to make it clear because there's a lot of dishonest statements about my relationship with Obama," he said.

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