Sanders suspends his presidential campaign, leaving challenges for Biden in Florida

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and his wife Mary Jane O'Meara Sanders wave to supporters before Sanders spoke before a large crowd at a rally in the Colorado Convention Center on Feb. 16, 2020 in Denver, Colo. Credit: Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders’ decision to suspend his presidential campaign on Wednesday presents Joe Biden — the presumptive Democratic nominee facing Donald Trump — with a series of challenges in the nation’s largest swing state.

Former Vice President Biden easily bested Vermont U.S. Sen. Sanders in Florida’s March 17 presidential preference primary, with 62 percent of the Democratic vote to Sanders’ 23 percent. Biden carried all 67 counties.

But Sanders’ departure, although not unexpected, raises questions about Biden’s ability to appeal to the progressive wing of his party as well as excite younger voters who supported the democratic socialist policies of Sanders.

“I think it’s fair to say that all of his supporters are very disappointed, not necessarily in his decision to suspend the campaign, but certainly in the result coming out of that, which is essentially closing the door on any chance that remained that he would become the Democratic nominee,” Michael Calderin, president of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, said in an interview with the Florida Phoenix.

Calderin, a Broward County political activist, and his caucus endorsed Sanders in February.

“In terms of what comes next, I think that’s going to be a personal question for everybody,” Calderin said. “We’ll need some time to process our feelings. When your candidate goes out, you have to go through the various stages of grief.”

“If I could give advice to the Biden campaign, it would be that they need to give people time to process and then take actions to show why Bernie supporters should be backing Joe, more than simply than he’s not the person that’s in the office now. It’s got to be a positive message and it’s got to talk to their values,” Calderin said.

Susan MacManus, a political science professor emeritus at the University of South Florida, said Biden will have to work to appeal to both young and old voters. But she said it’s an issue he can address, in part, by his selection of a running mate.

“The real challenge remains putting the party together again generationally in Florida,” MacManus said in an interview with the Florida Phoenix. “Hillary Clinton lost (Florida in 2016) because the younger voters that supported (Sanders) last time just didn’t vote. So that’s the big thing.”

MacManus added: “It really creates the challenge for Biden in terms of who he selects as a vice presidential running mate because obviously it has to be someone that people perceive can step right in if something were to happen to him,” she said. “And secondly, it’s a way that you can show the progressives that you paid attention to what they have said.”

Calderin said his caucus members will not be abandoning the Democratic Party in the Nov. 3 presidential election, although Sanders’ decision could shift the focus of some progressive voters.

“In terms of our caucus, we are part of the Florida Democratic Party. And while we don’t hesitate to call out missteps when they happen, we support Democratic candidates,” Calderin said.

“So, we won’t be actively working against any Democrat in the general election. But the feeling that I have for many of our members is they’re going to focus on local races, on people that they believe in, on races that matter and can make a difference in their community,” he said.

MacManus said the key challenge for Florida Democrats, who are trying to boost their voter registration this year, remains turning out their voters for the general election.

“Registration is not the difficulty. The difficulty is turnout,” she said.

With younger voters, MacManus said “just a little bit of a bump in their turnout and their cohesiveness could make a difference in Florida,” where recent presidential and gubernatorial elections have been decided by razor-thin margins.

On the Republican side, GOP leaders were clearly disappointed by Sanders’ decision, which eliminates a protracted nomination fight among the Democrats.

But Brad Parscale, Trump’s Florida-based campaign manager, expressed confidence that the Republican incumbent “will destroy” Biden in the November election.

“President Trump is still disrupting Washington, D.C., while Biden represents the old, tired way and continuing to coddle the communist regime in China,” Parscale said in a statement. “Democrat elites shoved Bernie Sanders to the side for a second time, leaving many of his supporters looking for a new home.”