With two months to go until the 2020 Democratic presidential primary kicks off in Iowa, former Vice President Joe Biden leads the field in national polls. But behind Biden, progressive Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are battling to overtake the moderate candidate and claim the nomination.
The campaigns of Warren and Sanders are attracting national attention as a fight between two candidates seen as champions of the left-wing of the Democratic party. Currently, Sanders is in second place nationally with 18.3% support, followed by Warren in third with 15.8%.
At Penn, two student groups are bringing the national battle onto Penn's campus, where a similar divide exists. Leaders of Penn for Bernie estimate it has about 40 to 50 active members, while leaders of Penn for Warren estimate it has about 20.
Students leaders of Penn for Warren and Penn for Bernie have increased their outreach to outside organizations, as students at Penn seek to prove to their peers that their candidate is the best champion of the leftist movement.
Penn for Warren President and College sophomore Abby Clyde, who founded the group, said the students have focused on bolstering Warren's candidacy by phone banking in early voting states, such as Iowa and New Hampshire.
Warren was a Penn Law professor in the late 1980s and early 1990s, before teaching at Harvard and winning a Senate seat in 2012. The Massachusetts progressive gained momentum in the 2020 Democratic race over the summer and overtook Biden in national polls. But in recent weeks, Warren's rise in the polls has stalled, which experts attribute to her rollout of a Medicare for All plan.
Warren’s status as a relative newcomer in politics and her emphasis on combatting corruption makes her an attractive candidate, Clyde said. Penn for Warren has an email listserv of 200 students, with 20 of those students as currently active members.
“A big issue for us is she’s going to try and break that system down, and make sure that the people’s voice is actually being heard by stopping that corruption,” Clyde said. “There are so many things that are not working.”
Penn for Bernie President and College sophomore Jack Cahill said the group has reached out to outside organizations to further promote their candidate, working with Philly for Bernie and the national campaign. Sanders may visit West Philadelphia at the end of March, Cahill said.
Penn for Bernie Co-President and College sophomore Amira Chowdhury said Sanders’ decades-long fight for progressive values and low-income, working families "beats any other candidate."
Sanders' campaign drew criticism this fall for failing to replicate his strong 2016 primary performance, where he closely challenged former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But after he suffered a heart attack in October, Sanders picked up an endorsement from high-profile Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and recently overtook Warren for second in the RealClear Politics national polling average for the first time since the summer.
The candidates have split progressive Democrats on campus, with Sanders' advocates claiming he is the authentic voice of progressives, while Warren supporters argue that her support for capitalism and marginalized communities make her the better presidential contender.
Cahill criticized Warren's inconsistency and said her relatively recent leftward shift proved she could not be trusted to implement progressive policies.
“A lot of what she says she believes in now, is conveniently what she starts to believe now that she’s running for president,” Cahill said of Warren. “[Bernie’s] the one you can really trust to actually implement what he really believes in.”
Penn for Warren Vice President and College sophomore Claire Ochroch, however, said Warren's plans are more inclusive of marginalized communities than Sanders' campaign, citing Warren's plan for funding historically black colleges and universities.
“Her rhetoric is much more inclusive than Bernie’s is,” said Ochroch, who is a former Daily Pennsylvanian staffer. “She’s ready to include people in her version in a way Bernie is not.” Clyde added that Warren's defense for capitalism makes her a more attractive candidate than Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist.
“[Warren] believes that markets can work, but only when they are regulated and only when there is someone in the government looking out for the people," Clyde said.