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Ideology or Electability? Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton Have Democrats Torn

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 19/10/2015 Matt Teitelbaum
HILLARY CLINTON © Shutterstock HILLARY CLINTON

Hillary Clinton has maintained a sizable lead in polling for the Democratic presidential nomination but has Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont nipping at her heels.
Sanders has enjoyed huge success on the campaign trail, drawing out the largest crowds of any candidate Republican or Democrat. This rally based strategy appears to be working, at least in part with Sanders nearly matching Clinton in Fundraising this quarter and running neck and neck with her in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Sanders loyalists insist that he is the party purist and true progressive in the race. Clinton's strong performance in last week's debate included a declaration that she is in fact a progressive, exposing her need to prove her liberal bona-fides amidst a spirited challenge from one of Congress's most progressive voices.
Throughout the cycle, one factor has remained a consistent boost for Clinton in her quest for the Democratic nomination. That factor is electability.
Clinton is a seasoned and trained politician who showed just how ready she is for prime-time last week. She's polished and poised as she crusades to make history as the first woman President of the United States. That history-making potential, along with relatively moderate views when compared to Sanders, makes her a solid choice to compete with the Republican candidate next November.
Sanders, by contrast, lacks the kind of appeal that Clinton does in a general election matchup.
To start, Sanders is open about his Democratic Socialist ideology. Though socialism is starting to be viewed differently by young liberals around the country, most Americans still have a negative view of the word.
The very word that Sanders uses to describe his political ideology is the same one that was used (albeit unsuccessfully) by Republicans in 2012 to try and paint President Obama as a big government liberal. Openly identifying as a socialist might just prove to be a deal breaker with the American electorate in a nationwide election, particularly if pitted up against an establishment Republican like Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush.
Sanders also lacks the history-making potential of Clinton, seeing as he's a man, although he would accomplish the significantly less hyped feat of being America's first Jewish President.
Add this to Sanders' advanced age for a Presidential candidate (he'll be 75 if elected in 2016), and you've got a less than appealing image for most Democratic strategists.
Despite the fact that Clinton has been hurt somewhat by controversy surrounding her use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State, the consensus remains among most Democrats that she is the more electable candidate.
So Democrats are left with a difficult choice. Either choose the ideological purist, or the one who can win. It's not an easy choice to make when you look at the state of the Republican primary.
If current Republican front-runner Donald Trump or his nearest competitor Dr. Ben Carson were to win the primary, their mutual affinity for offensive and sometimes downright bizarre statements might prove to be just what someone like Sanders needs to come out on top. Although his views may seem extreme to some, Sanders is an experienced member of the US Senate and would look eminently Presidential when stacked up against Carson or Trump.
Thus, the Democrats are left with a gamble. They can nominate Sanders with hope that a weak Republican will could grant them the most progressive President possible, or nominate Clinton to play it safe.
Democrats would likely kick themselves if Sanders ended up spoiling the general election for them, but might kick themselves just as hard if Clinton is elected and fails to enact the strongly progressive policy agenda that they crave from someone like Sanders.
Ultimately, Democrats have to choose whether to vote with their hearts or their minds. The Democratic candidate in 2016 would do well however to remember that you have to win over both to be elected President.

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