'Bernie or brokered': Democratic race at critical crossroads

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Michael Holahan © 2020 The Augusta Chroinicle

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a campaign rally in Aiken, SC., Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP)

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The Democrats' 2020 primary season enters a critical four-day stretch that will help determine whether the party rallies behind Bernie Sanders or embraces a longer and uglier slog that could carry on until the national convention.

This marks a dangerous moment for a political party desperate to replace President Donald Trump but deeply conflicted over whether Sanders, the undisputed Democratic front-runner and a self-described democratic socialist, is too extreme to defeat the Republican president.

“Only two things are going to happen: either Bernie or brokered,” said James Carville, a veteran Democratic strategist.

Carville is uncomfortable with a Sanders nomination but fears that a brokered convention — in which party bosses or delegates in floor fights and negotiations decide the nominee after no candidate amasses enough delegates in the primary — would inflict serious damage on the party, as well. “It’s just hard for me to see beyond the two options," he said.

South Carolina's primary on Saturday stands as the first marker on the four-day crossroads. Joe Biden and his establishment allies hope to slow Sanders' momentum — and change the trajectory of the race — with a convincing victory demonstrating his strength among African Americans. But just three days later, Sanders believes he's positioned to seize a major delegate advantage when 14 states and one U.S. territory vote on “Super Tuesday.”

After two consecutive victories and a tie for the lead in Iowa, the 78-year-old Vermont senator's confidence is surging.

Sanders will spend the lead-up time to Super Tuesday campaigning in the home states of two major Democratic rivals, betting he can score a double knockout blow — or at least limit the size of their victories.

In a power play, Sanders will host a midday rally Saturday in downtown Boston, campaigning in the heart of progressive ally Elizabeth Warren's political turf. And on the eve of Super Tuesday, Sanders will host a concert in Minnesota, where home-state Sen. Amy Klobuchar is looking for her first win.