The powerful new ad launched by the Sanders campaign as part of its closing arguments before the Iowa caucuses provides a great window into his problems and promise as a candidate. It’s an inspirational ad, showing ordinary (often rural) people doing their daily work and coming together to support Sanders. As Greg Sargent of the Washington Post shrewdly notes, the tagline in the ad—“a future you can believe in”—echoes the 2008 Obama slogan “change you can believe in.” Sanders is running as the aspirational candidate who promises a break from the status quo, which is forcing Clinton to take up her familiar (and in 2008, losing) posture as the pragmatist who works within the system but eschews any fairytale solutions.
The ad is winning in many ways, but also highlights Sanders’s weaknesses. Almost everyone in the ad is white. That might do for Iowa but it also reflects the demographic hurdle that Sanders has to jump if he’s to win: He’s roughly even with Clinton among white voters but badly lags among blacks and Latinos.
Sanders is on track to win New Hampshire and possibly Iowa. But an ad featuring white farm folks, with a soundtrack from 1960s relics Simon & Garfunkel, isn’t going to help Sanders with the large non-white constituencies in New York, Texas, Ohio, and South Carolina. If Sanders wants to win, his next ad better feature more people of color, and music that’s more recent than 1968.