In the data breach, some much-needed attention for Sanders

Story highlights

  • What could have been a disaster instead turned into an opportunity
  • But Hillary Clinton is already looking ahead to the general election fight

Washington (CNN)At first the Democratic National Committee voter data breach looked terrible for Bernie Sanders, with a top staffer breaking into an opponent's core data and laying eyes on the Hillary Clinton strategy in early states.

But it quickly gave the Sanders team something it hadn't seen in months -- attention -- which left them looking for ways to stoke that long-simmering liberal outrage at the Democratic establishment while not appearing too craven.
Thus in one answer Saturday night, while Sanders apologized to Hillary Clinton, whose crucial data modeling the Sanders campaign put eyes on, he quickly pivoted to attacking the DNC.
    "What the DNC did, arbitrarily, without discussing it with us, is shut off our access to our information, crippling our campaign," Sanders said. Meanwhile, his top staff fired away at Clinton and Democratic Party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
    And Clinton moved in the opposite direction, pushing to get back to her general election focus, with her own version of the Sanders' "your damn email" response from the first debate.
    "We should move on because I don't think the American people are all that interested in this," Clinton said.
    What could have been a disaster instead turned into an opportunity.
    If the Sanders revolution had been frozen out of the voter data file, it could have been a wreck for his campaign -- the fight giving him loads of attention but no tools to do anything with it. But instead he got his voter access restored at the 11th hour Friday night, after his campaign was able to whip his liberal base into a frenzy.
    And it all comes down to the narrative Sanders needs: The fight is not over because they don't want us to win.
    The Sanders campaign even touted one of the initial results are in from that burst of attention: $1 million raised in 24 hours, almost double the $600,000 daily haul they say they raised, according to court filings.
    And as he took to the Sunday talk shows, his decision to hug it out with Clinton was a dominant theme, but he pressed the anger against the DNC.
    "That is total overreaction," Sanders said on ABC's "This Week." "What should have been done is there should have been a meeting between the teams, actually quietly. We got a problem. How are we going to address this problem? Not leaking stuff to 'The Washington Post, by the way, and certainly not separating us and preventing us from getting the information we need to run a campaign."
    Sanders has long been a man with a near-tunnel vision focus on his mission: Highlight the issues he has been talking about for years, income inequality, Wall Street and affordable healthcare. And his campaign, so far, has mimicked that focus. Hitting the DNC too hard on Saturday night would have gone against his image as an earnest old liberal dead-set on addressing issues.
    But that didn't keep his staff from pushing the fight.
    Just before the debate, Tad Devine, Sanders' top campaign adviser, struck Clinton directly on Iraq, an issue the Sanders campaign has long keyed in on as one of her vulnerabilities.
    "When I said a fired staffer made a "mistake," I meant it in the same way @HillaryClinton did about the Iraq war," Devine tweeted, linking to a story on Clinton's decision to call her 2002 vote a "mistake."
    And after the debate, in the spin room, Campaign Manager Jeff Weaver let reporters know that two more staffers had been suspended because of the data breach and got into a back-and-forth with Democratic Party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz over whether she withheld data breach information.
    "We did suspend two more staffers today based on information that we received from data logs form the DNC, these documents were not previously made available to us," Weaver said. Nearby, Wasserman Schultz flatly said, "No, that's not accurate."
    Clinton-aligned Democrats say this shows the campaign is out of step with the candidate and not serving the Vermont senator well. Their argument is bolstered by the fact that Sanders was not informed about the data breach until 24 hours after it happened when Wasserman Schultz called him to discuss the matter. According to multiple people with knowledge of the call, the senator was livid.
    Weaver argued Saturday that his rhetoric is not out of step with the campaign.
    "Bernie sets the tone of the campaign. I think he did a great job tonight," Weaver said. "It doesn't show a disconnect. ... The candidate speaks for the campaign. As always, we are very, very proud of Bernie."
    For Sanders, the rhetoric feeds directly into the Democratic Primary battle he needs to have with Clinton in order to win.
    On the flip side, Clinton's insistence they move on was followed by two hours of general election strategy, underlining the fact that this is a battle that only helps Sanders. She's ready for the nomination and doesn't need a primary battle getting in the way.