It’s fortunate for Hillary Clinton that Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent socialist from Vermont who is challenging her for the Democratic presidential nomination, despises and eschews negative advertising. That’s because the political consulting firm that Sanders has retained to advise his campaign has a well-developed expertise in devising attack ads. Earlier this year, this outfit, Devine Mulvey Longabaugh, won a Pollie award from the American Association of Political Consultants for creating the best Democratic congressional ad of 2014. The spotslammed Dave Trott, a Republican running for a congressional seat in Michigan, for making millions of dollars by foreclosing on residents of his state, and it focused on the harrowing eviction of a 101-year-old Detroit woman. Trott survived this assault and handily won the seat in the Republican district, but the Washington Post called the commercial “one of the most brutal attack ads you’ll ever see.”
The Sanders campaign has no plans to hurl these kinds of ads at Clinton. As Tad Devine, the veteran political operative who leads this firm and a longtime adviser to Sanders, notes, mudslinging is not part of the campaign strategy that Sanders and his advisers have crafted. There won’t even be one speck of dust directly tossed at Clinton. But, Devine tells me, implicit negative messages aimed at Clinton will certainly be “embedded” in Sanders’ advertising and social media messaging.
Sanders does have an overall plan on how to beat Clinton. As Devine explains, it goes something like this: Raise enough money to devote significant resources to building a full operation and maintaining a media presence in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as Nevada and South Carolina. At the same time, develop a basic foundation for campaign organizations in other states, so if Sanders fares well in the initial contests, these preliminary outfits can quickly be built out. Devine and other Sanders advisers estimate they will need to raise $40-$50 million by the Iowa caucuses to be in such a position, and they claim Sanders is on track to hit that mark, mainly with thousands and thousands of low-dollar contributions. (Sanders has drawn crowds of thousands at recent campaign events.) “I don’t know if we can outright beat her in Iowa and New Hampshire,” Devine says, “but we have a real shot at it in both places.”