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Narrow victory in New Hampshire for sanders muddles Dem’s race

Jules Witcover, syndicated columnist

WASHINGTON — After the first two delegate-selecting contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has solidified his hold on the Democratic progressive wing. But still to be decided is who will carry the party’s moderate banner in the fight to take on Donald Trump.

Former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg came within 1.5 percent of Sanders’s winning margin in the Granite State, but he was impressively shadowed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, signaling a continuing division among the anti-Trump forces.

The result cast a pall over the chances of former Vice President Joe Biden and of Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, both of whom fell to single digits in New Hampshire.

Before the results were in, Biden revealingly scurried to South Carolina, where he hopes a presumed firewall of African American votes will keep him in the race in the face of his vanished frontrunner stature.

Biden had counted on his open and consistent embrace of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, and his ties to the former president to sustain him. He insists he will press on, in the approaching Nevada caucuses and beyond.

As for Warren, her collapse occurred in the wake of heavy campaign bombardment over how she would pay for her costly version of Medicare For All, a signature policy championed by Sanders.

Buttigieg, meanwhile, has been hedging his bets on that plan by expressing support for what he called Medicare For All Who Want It, embracing Biden’s defense of private-industry health care with premiums paid by employers and unions.

Now hovering over all this muddled picture is the emergence of the carefully crafted candidacy former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has ducked the first four delegate-selecting state contests and poured multi-millions of his billionaire fortune into advertising and campaign travel.

His open contempt for the party process tackled by the other Democratic contenders could risk negative pushback from voters who find his blatant bid to buy the nomination distasteful. But so far at least, Bloomberg has begun to rise in the polls, confirming that money still talks loudly in American politics.

The Democratic National Committee has agreed to include Bloomberg in the future presidential debates, to the ire of the others who have slogged through the difficult process up until now.

Bloomberg obviously is counting on his seemingly limitless resources to swarm over the March 3 Super Tuesday in 14 states, including California and Texas, and take a commanding lead in the race. It would create a fight between two billionaires who have clashed earlier in New York encounters.

All this political combat unfolds amid Trump’s brazen pursuit of revenge and payback toward administration officials who have had the effrontery of testifying honestly in Congressional hearings about the Ukraine scandal.

The president’s post-impeachment flexing of political muscle is now being seen in his blatant interference in the Justice Department’s sentencing recommendation for his old crony and fixer Roger Stone, who was convicted of obstructing Congress, making false statements and witness tampering.

Trump called the original sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years “a horrible and very unfair situation” when “the real crime was on the other side, as nothing happens to them,” presumably referring to the prosecutors involved. He added: “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”

After the Justice Department announced it would revise its sentencing recommendation, all four prosecutors who handled the case immediately withdrew from it when the department indicated it would oppose the sentencing. Trump also revoked the nomination of the top government lawyer who supervised the Stone case at trial.

Such are the immediate rotten fruits of an enraged sitting president champing at the indignity of members of his own Justice Department doing their jobs, in the current era of an elected monarch who says he can do whatever he wants.

Despite Senate Republican apologists who now say Trump has learned a lesson from his impeachment and will mend his ways, he again proves otherwise, and demonstrates what his reelection in November would bring in another four years in the Oval Office.

Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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