What does Bernie Sanders need to do to beat Hillary?

Media consultant Mark Macias has offered up his analysis of the 2016 presidential candidates, including Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. Here, he offers advice to Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders is close to a statistical tie with Hillary Clinton in the latest New Hampshire poll, but as Al Gore learned in 2000, one state doesn't make you president.

For Sanders to seriously challenge Clinton, he needs money and a national network to motivate voters and volunteers. He must persuade minorities to leave Clinton — a challenge since she had 72 percent of the nonwhite Democratic vote, according to a June Washington Post/ABC News poll. Sanders had only 5 percent in that poll. But his biggest obstacle of all: Clinton's expected $2.5 billion war chest.

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Unfortunately for Sanders, money drives campaigns.

Fortunately for Sanders, so does perception and right now the growing perception is Sanders is a "real threat" to Clinton.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a town hall meeting in Davenport, Iowa.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a town hall meeting in Davenport, Iowa.

The national media is starting to show video of his campaign rallies. More impressive, reporters are describing these crowds as larger than Clinton rallies — and with more passionate followers.

"He's connecting in a way that Hillary Clinton is not," a New Hampshire state Senator told the Washington Post recently. "He's talking about things people want to hear. People are used to candidates who are calculated, produced and measured, and they see through that. Bernie's different."

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During my time as a producer with NBC in Miami, I learned you can't predict hurricanes in February, and that goes for calling election results, as well. I won't predict whether Sanders can beat Clinton six months from now. But I will tell you how Sanders can move his message beyond New Hampshire and into a national campaign by leveraging the media.

The Sanders media strategy begins with three words: visuals, perception and commonality.


If an alien lands in Times Square but no one takes video of it, did it really visit earth? If I didn't see that video, I would assume the radio station was exaggerating or the photo was doctored. This is why the Sanders campaign needs to harness the power of video and start creating social media videos with the purpose of going viral. It doesn't take a $2.5 billion war chest to accomplish this. It takes a few passionate college interns with an eye for video. The Sanders campaign should be creating multiple videos, targeting the different key demos and documenting the crowds so the rest of America can become intrigued.

In New York, tourists flock to Broadway shows even though they frequently know nothing about the plot. You know why? Because they are seduced by the intrigue of seeing something that everyone else is experiencing. Sanders needs to create that same intrigue, so future states will want to see his "Broadway show" when it comes to town.


I volunteered for my first Congressional campaign for a little known challenger when I was in college. I didn't realize it then, but I volunteered because of my perception that he could beat the incumbent. I was also lured in by a message that spoke to me. Perception drives reality in politics — and fortunately for Sanders, the public knows little about him. He's not a national candidate with a long history, like Clinton, so he is in the enviable position of building a perception from scratch. Sprinkle a little perception that the public is catching onto his message and everyone will start to believe it on the news.


The 99 percent relates to the Sanders message. He wants to provide free college, guarantee sick and family leave, and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. In the few speeches I heard, Sanders went after large corporations in a way that felt authentic. Have you heard Clinton criticize corporations? She sounds like she is reading a script. Sanders sounds like that uncle at Thanksgiving who speaks passionately about how he can make a better turkey. When you combine authenticity, passion and commonality, it's like turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy on Thanksgiving.

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Listen to Sanders speak and you get the feeling that he wants to help the middle class so much that he just might have a heart attack in the process. That's a passion that moves people. The Clinton campaign is trying to own the "champion of everyday Americans" theme. If Sanders can stick with his common message that he is the authentic "champion of every day Americans," he can go beyond New Hampshire.

But I saved the worst for last.

There is one more word that should be added to the Bernie Sanders media strategy. This word will become his biggest weakness in this campaign. It hasn't gained too much traction with the media, but if the rest of America starts taking interest in Sanders, mark my word that you will start to hear more about "socialist Bernie."

That will be a hard label to overcome because the majority of Americans associate socialism with communism. We defeated communism. Capitalism won. Does anyone really believe that America will now elect a socialist? And there is really no way Sanders can distance himself from this label because he openly embraces it.

I'd not only predict that happens six months out, I'd put money on it.

Commentary by Mark Macias, head of Macias PR, a global public-relations firm, that has run media and branding campaigns for politicians, tech start-ups, financial firms, nonprofits and companies. He's also author of the book, "Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media." Follow him on Twitter @markmacias.