With new signs that Hillary Clinton is pulling well ahead of Bernie Sanders in next Tuesday’s New York Democratic primary, Sanders is counting on positive optics over the weekend to help him regain momentum.
Sanders flew off to Rome just hours after his heated, two-hour debate with Clinton in Brooklyn Thursday night. He delivered a relatively brief speech on Friday before a Vatican conference marking the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s encyclical on the economy and social justice.
In the perfect world for Sanders, the Vermont senator would snag a photo op with Pope Francis on Saturday while Clinton dines in California with actor George Clooney and his wife at a campaign fundraiser that reportedly charged $353,400 for a pair of seats at the actor’s table.
Sanders has already denounced the lavish fundraiser as “obscene, and another indication that Clinton is tone deaf when it comes fundraising, especially when it involves Wall Street bankers or big-money celebrities.
If Sanders lucks out over the weekend, there will be many split-screen television broadcasts showing Sanders seeking the pope’s blessing while Clinton is laughing it up with Clooney and other Hollywood celebrities.
Sanders, the Vermont democratic socialist, has made income inequality and social justice a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. He told the conference in Rome that young people today are no longer satisfied with an economy “of stark inequality and injustice.” Instead, they want an economy that looks out for the common good.
Sanders spoke of the “disastrous effects” of financial bubbles and falling living standards on working class families. “Our very soul as a nation has suffered as the public has lost faith in political and social institutions,” he said, according to a report by MSNBC.
Sanders was neither invited by Pope Francis to attend the conference hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, nor was he offered the opportunity to meet with him before the pope jets off to Greece on Saturday for a scheduled visit.
That raise questions about why Sanders decided to break away from a tough and crucial campaign in delegate-rich New York over the final weekend to travel overseas with no assurances he will meet the Pope.
The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC/Marist poll shows Clinton leading Sanders by 17 percentage points, 57 percent to 40 percent. A major loss on Tuesday would be a serious setback for Sanders after he won seven of the last eight Democratic caucuses and primaries in much smaller states.
Sanders’ campaign will begin airing a new ad in San Francisco tonight reminding voters that he has outraised Clinton substantially with modest contributions from average Americans at about $27 per contribution. “If you can’t afford to attend tonight’s event with Secretary Clinton, we invite you to join Bernie’s fundraiser for the low price of turning on your television,” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager.
While even a fleeting encounter with Pope Francis, one of Sanders’ heroes, would help burnish his international credentials, Sanders told The New York Times the visit was not a political maneuver. He said that the pope has played “an extraordinary role and with great courage,” in getting the world to think more seriously about moral, social and environmental injustice.
Sanders, who is Jewish, termed the trip "an opportunity that comes once in a lifetime” and that he would be “kicking himself” forever if he passed it up.
According to CBS News, the chancellor for the pontifical academy, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, said Sanders was invited because he was the only U.S. presidential candidate who demonstrated a deep interest in the teachings of Francis. But he downplayed any possibility that Sanders would meet the pope over the weekend.
But hope springs eternal, and Sanders reportedly is staying at a residential hotel inside the Vatican where the pope stays. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Sanders and his aides hanging out in the lobby tomorrow morning in hopes of a chance encounter with the pope.