DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders contends his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination would succeed even if he fails to prevail in the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses, saying in an interview with The Associated Press he is prepared to go the distance against front-runner Hillary Clinton.
“If I lose Iowa by two votes and end up with virtually the same number of delegates, is that a must-lose situation? Is that a tragedy? No,” Sanders said aboard a charter flight en route to Duluth, Minnesota, where he spoke at a rally with 6,000 supporters. “We are running a campaign that will take us to the convention and I’m very proud of the kinds of enormous gains we have made.”
Sanders also held a rally in St. Paul on Tuesday, preparing for the state’s March 1 presidential caucus. Joined by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minneapolis, one of his top supporters in Congress, Sanders has identified the state as one of his top targets in the so-called “Super Tuesday” states that will award a bevy of delegates after the early contests of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
Sanders has said previously that he could win Iowa but his comments suggested an attempt to lower expectations in the final week before the caucuses. Asked if the Iowa contest is a must-win, he responded: “That’s mythology.”
Sanders told reporters earlier in the day in Des Moines that if he could generate large turnout among non-traditional voters, young people and workers, he could claim victory.
“We will win here in Iowa if the voter turnout is high and frankly if the voter turnout is not high we’re going to be struggling,” he said.
In the AP interview, he noted with a populist flair that if former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg entered a race against him and Republican Donald Trump, “two of the three candidates would be multi-billionaires. And by the way I’m the one who is not the multi-billionaire.” Turning to his wife, Jane, he quipped: “Is that correct? I haven’t checked the bank account lately.”
Sanders, an independent who often votes with Democrats on Capitol Hill, said Bloomberg’s interest in a presidential bid brought forth “one of the issues that I think galls the American people — that we’re moving toward an oligarchic form of society.”
He also dismissed speculation that President Barack Obama might be tipping the scales in favor of Clinton after the president praised his former secretary of state in a Politico interview. Sanders said Obama was “very generous to me.” He said both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are trying to be “objective and letting the people decide.”
The White House said later that Sanders would meet informally with Obama in the Oval Office on Wednesday and “there will be no formal agenda.”
Sanders said he and Clinton are in a “nip-and-tuck” race in Iowa but predicted that, with a success, he would begin to see more support from establishment Democrats who have coalesced around the former secretary of state’s candidacy.
Asked if establishment Democrats would become unnerved if he defeated Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders said “the good news is we still live in a democracy and people have a say in this.”
“Some elements of the establishment really will be upset,” he added. “But other elements of the establishment, even if they are not supportive of my candidacy, today understand that the major task in front of us is to defeat right-wing extremism.”
He added: “What Democrats want to do is defeat Republicans and if I’m the candidate best able to do that, you can bet your bottom buck we’re going to have a whole lot of establishment Democrats on board.”
Sanders said he did not know if Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of liberal Democrats, would endorse in the primary.
“Would I like her to come on board? Yes,” Sanders said. “Elizabeth and I have known each other for many, many years. I knew her before you knew her, before she was Elizabeth Warren. Just a law school professor at Harvard who came to Vermont at my request to do some town meetings and did a great job.”