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Presidential Campaigns Test What Changes Minds

February 7th, 2020 by dk

Most of the time, I wish Oregon’s presidential primary was scheduled for earlier in the year, because I’d rather we have a significant voice in the outcome. But there may be an upside to being invited late to this party. Since I know I won’t be asked to state my choice until May 19, I can enjoy the spectacle for its own sake, and delay caring about the results.

Luckily for me, it’s especially interesting this year because of the stark contrasts between a few of the top candidates. Nothing that follows should be construed as an endorsement of any candidate or electoral strategy. Until early May, I have the luxury of watching what works, whether I like it or not.

Specifically, I’ll be watching how Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg do battle, along with President Donald Trump’s responses. Each man’s campaign represents a bold departure from conventional wisdom.

Sanders has received funding from more supporters than any candidate in history — 5 million donors and counting. His best hope is to energize his electorate in ways that pundits and opponents will find difficult to anticipate. He hopes to mobilize his voters in ways that candidate Barack Obama only dreamed of in 2008.

Sanders’s vision for the country’s future is not measurably majoritarian, but that could end up being very misleading. Swing voters are important, but they are vastly outnumbered by those who don’t vote at all. Can Bernie get this uncharted plurality of eligible citizens — who are predominantly young people — to the polls? His vision of a latter-day revolution will require nothing less. Other candidates — in this cycle or later — will follow if he succeeds.

Bernie is refusing large donations, underscoring his determination to take his battle directly to the oligarchs and business titans. Mike Bloomberg, on the other hand, is refusing to accept donations of any size from anyone. The New York billionaire is self-funding his campaign, buying up TV advertising at a pace that’s never been seen. Bernie has assembled an army of volunteers. Bloomberg will deploy paid staff across the nation.

Which strategy will change hearts and minds? Will the battle be won by the missionaries or the mercenaries? The passion or the purse? The boots or the bucks? When the turnout numbers for the Iowa caucuses didn’t show a surge of voter interest, Bloomberg doubled his TV advertising budget.

We’re not the only ones watching how this all plays out. President Trump has perfected a third way to reaching people. His volunteers won’t match Bernie’s, and his budget will never approach Bloomberg’s, but he has an uncanny ability to dominate almost every news cycle. By some estimates, the media attention he received in 2016 would have cost him $3 billion. And that was before he had access to Air Force One and the Oval Office. He has 55 million followers on Twitter, which likewise costs him nothing.

Which method will work best? An army of volunteers, endless TV ads, or dominant free media exposure? I’ll be watching this for the next three months, before I have to make up my own mind.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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  • 1 David Feb 7, 2020 at 12:42 pm

    I didn’t vote for Trump in 2016. Sanders seems honest. I’m not sure whom I’ll vote for right now.