Election 2020 Bernie Sanders

CAMPAIGN — 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally on Saturday.

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — As she waited to meet former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper at a recent  party in Dubuque, attorney Connie O’Connor was anxious about the liberal direction of the Democratic primary.

“I know a lot of people who don’t want to vote for Donald Trump but don’t necessarily want to vote for the presidential version of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez,” she said, referring to the recently elected progressive congresswoman from New York. “I think we forget those people are out there.”

The early days of the Democratic contest are dominated by a debate over whether candidates such as Sanders are moving the party too far left or whether the embrace of liberal priorities will fire up the base and help defeat Trump.

That debate is sure to deepen if former Vice President Joe Biden enters the race and tries to establish himself as a prominent centrist counterweight to Sanders, a Vermont senator. In the opening days of his 2020 campaign, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke has also sought to appeal to both parties.

“There’s a tension, and that’s what presidential campaigns are about,” said Simon Rosenberg of the New Democratic Network.

So far, the candidates are racing to prove their progressive bona fides on issues such as “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal.

Yet surveys suggest Democratic voters are less eager to tack left. A Monmouth Poll last month found 56% of registered Democrats said their top priority was a candidate who could beat Trump even if they disagreed with that person on most issues.

Though a few insurgents won Democratic primaries last year, most notably Ocasio-Cortez, most of those contests were captured by candidates backed by the party establishment.

Recent campaign swings through Iowa by Sanders and by Hickenlooper, a self-described “extreme moderate,” illustrated the contradiction in the

Democratic field.

For the Sanders appearance in Iowa City, the soundtrack at the University of Iowa student union featured Tracy Chapman’s “Talking About A Revolution” and Muse’s “Uprising.” Well over 1,000 people wore Sanders T-shirts, hats and buttons, some with 2016-era gear and others sporting the newer 2020 models on sale outside the hall.

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