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Where The Bernie Sanders Campaign Stands Heading Into Iowa

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The four senators running for president were in Washington today for the impeachment trial. They had a packed day of campaigning in Iowa yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

ELIZABETH WARREN: 2020 - this is no time for small ideas.

BERNIE SANDERS: And create the largest voter turnout in the history of the Iowa caucus.

MICHAEL BENNET: We need to remind the American people of how costly this has been to our country.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: So join us. Caucus with us. We're going to do this, and we're going to win.

SHAPIRO: And so on this day of the Iowa caucuses, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Michael Bennet and Amy Klobuchar have spent most of their day another time zone. Their surrogates are giving a final push. And we're joined now by one of those surrogates for Senator Sanders. Ari Rabin-Havt is his deputy campaign manager, and he joins us from Des Moines.

Welcome.

ARI RABIN-HAVT: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Your boss has been pretty honest about the fact that spending the last week in Washington for the impeachment trial might be good for American democracy but is not good for his presidential campaign. So tell me about how your team's been adapting.

RABIN-HAVT: Well - "Not Me, Us" is our campaign slogan. But it's more than that. It's a mantra. And frankly, we've had to adjust to a "Not Me, Us" campaign. We've basically flooded the state with our surrogates because this campaign is a movement. And we're showing that movement to the people of Iowa.

SHAPIRO: The critics of the movement have raised electability questions. I mean, there was a column by Tim Egan in The New York Times last week arguing that Senator Sanders can't defeat President Trump because, as he puts it, Democrats win when they offer broad vision optimists, not fire and brimstone fundamentalists. What do you say to that argument?

RABIN-HAVT: Look; what we are offering is a vision agreed to by most of the American people. And I think you have a candidate in Bernie Sanders who, poll after poll after poll, literally going back now almost five to six years, show every time you put him head-to-head with Donald Trump, he beats him - not by a little but tends to be by a lot - and by the way, beats him in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania; states that are critical to this effort. So pundits can theorize about stuff. But frankly, a lot of pundits are - have a pretty poor track record of punditry.

SHAPIRO: The 2016 primary campaign was so divisive within the Democratic Party. I'm not going to ask you whether this year's campaign will be divisive because you can only control what your team does. But are there steps that you think the Sanders campaign can take to make sure the scars are not as deep this time around?

RABIN-HAVT: We run a campaign of issues, and there are going to be times where your issues differ from your opponent. And that's OK. You know, Bernie Sanders has his track record. Our opponents will have theirs, and we should compare those track records. That's what running for president is about. It's about, I'm here on the issues; my opponent is here. And we have a debate. That's, I think, OK. I think when it gets personal, when it gets overly heated - and Bernie Sanders has been very specific from the beginning that he wants a campaign of issues. And that's the campaign we're going to run.

SHAPIRO: And yet so often, it's his surrogates who say the more divisive things. I mean, just over the weekend, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib in Iowa booed Hillary Clinton and later apologized for that. But does Sanders need to do more when his surrogates are making these statements that are strongly against others within the party?

RABIN-HAVT: Look; I think Rashida Tlaib commented on that. And I don't - you know, she is somebody who has faced so much divisiveness and hatred herself directed at her, along with a number of our other surrogates. But look. I think Bernie Sanders has set a standard for our campaign. He expects that standard to be upheld. And we run a campaign that's positive and based on issues that, by the way, has one of the most diverse coalitions of any candidate, if not the most diverse coalition of any candidate in this race. And we're proud to run on that.

SHAPIRO: Your campaign has set a high bar for tonight. We heard Senator Sanders at the top there referring to the largest voter turnout in the history of the Iowa caucuses. Is there a risk to raising expectations too high if you don't come in first?

RABIN-HAVT: Well, I think what he was saying was - and he has said this over and over again - tonight, we'll know as people walk in what the turnout is. If it is a high voter turnout, we will win. If it is not a high voter turnout, we will not. We are feeling very confident about tonight, but we're not raising expectations. We will see what happens on caucus night. That's the magic of caucus night.

SHAPIRO: That is Ari Rabin-Havt, deputy campaign manager for Senator Bernie Sanders. And throughout NPR's coverage today, we are speaking with other candidates and their surrogates.

Thank you for joining us on this Iowa caucus day.

RABIN-HAVT: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.