Sanders campaign wracked by dissension

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By Holly Otterbein and Trent Spiner

A staff shakeup and loss of an endorsement to Elizabeth Warren has allies warning of deeper problems.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Some of Bernie Sanders’ fiercest supporters are sounding the alarm that the campaign is bogged down by disorganization, personality clashes, and poor communication between state operations and national headquarters.

After a pair of setbacks this week — the acrimonious shakeup of his staff in New Hampshire on Sunday and loss of the Working Families Party's endorsement to Elizabeth Warren a day later — Sanders’ allies and former aides are worried that recent disappointments are not one-off stumbles but rather emblematic of larger problems in his bid for the White House. The concerns are particularly acute in New Hampshire.

“Seeing the campaign not be able to outshine Warren with WFP progressives doesn’t have me questioning WFP’s process,” said Rafael Shimunov, a former national creative director for WFP and 2016 Sanders volunteer. “It has me questioning where the Bernie campaign could have done better, because I want to make sure the strongest candidate unmasks Biden and unseats Trump.”

The worries come as the campaign enters a critical, more urgent phase. After Labor Day, more voters typically tune into the election and begin to make up their minds. Expectations for Sanders are sky-high, especially in New Hampshire, where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 22 percentage points. 

But Warren has jumped in the national polls to tie Sanders for second place, and Joe Biden has proven harder to knock off his first-place perch than his rivals expected.

“In 2016, Bernie was the David who beat Goliath in New Hampshire — the expectations this time around are incomparable,” said Andrew Feldman, a Democratic strategist with close ties to labor groups. “It would be a mistake to try to replicate the type of campaign that Sanders ran in New Hampshire in 2016 because the dynamics of this race are completely different. For Sanders to be successful, a professional operation is critical.”

Jeff Weaver, a top Sanders adviser, told POLITICO that numerous rank-and-file members in the Working Families Party support Sanders and that his ground game in New Hampshire and other early states is strong. Sanders has 14 times as many identified voters in the Granite State than it had at this time in 2016, according to his campaign, and is doubling his field staff there from 26 to 50 employees. He also said the campaign’s national and states staff are in daily contact, and that he has a regular “states call” in which he asks his aides across the country to be honest about the problems they’re seeing.

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