Republican operatives are trying to help Bernie Sanders

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Bernie Sanders Talks Guns, Iran, Democratic Debate

Republican operatives are having a strange crush on Bernie Sanders.

During Sunday night's Democratic debate, the Republican National Committee made the unusual move of sending no fewer than four real-time emails to reporters defending the self-described democratic socialist from attacks by Hillary Clinton or echoing his message against her. Based on their content, one could be forgiven for thinking the RNC communiques came from the Sanders campaign.

SEE ALSO: Sanders calls Bill Clinton's behavior 'deplorable'

One RNC e-mail, which was titled "Clinton's Misleading Health Care Attack," defended the Vermont senator from what it described "the Clinton campaign's inaccurate remarks on Sanders' single-payer plan," and quoted news articles that featured rebuttals of her arguments. A second message countered Clinton's attacks on Sanders over gun control by pointing out her gun-friendly statements in the past. Two other e-mails sought to bolster Sanders' case that Clinton is too close to Wall Street and the drug industry.

READ MORE: Iran Captured U.S. Sailors at Gunpoint, Defense Department Finds

After the debate, the Republican political action committee America Rising promoted the narrative that Sanders won the debate. "Clinton needed a win last night. Instead, everyone is talking about how well Bernie Sanders, her chief rival, did," the group's communications director Jeff Bechdel wrote to reporters.

See photos of Clinton and Sanders duking it out during debates:

9 PHOTOS
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton duking it out during Democratic debates
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Republican operatives are trying to help Bernie Sanders
MILWAUKEE, WI - FEBRUARY 11: Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (L) and Hillary Clinton participate in the PBS NewsHour Democratic presidential candidate debate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on February 11, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.The debate is the final debate before the Nevada caucuses scheduled for February 20. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
DURHAM, NH - FEBRUARY 04: Democratic presidential candidates former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during their MSNBC Democratic Candidates Debate at the University of New Hampshire on February 4, 2016 in Durham, New Hampshire. This is the final debate for the Democratic candidates before the New Hampshire primaries. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) and Hillary Clinton take part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, left, and Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state, participate in the first Democratic presidential debate at the Wynn Las Vegas resort and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. While tonight's first Democratic presidential debate will probably lack the name-calling and sharp jabs of the Republican face-offs, there's still potential for strong disagreements between the party's leading contenders. Photographer: Josh Haner/Pool via Bloomberg
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) and Hillary Clinton shake hands at the end of a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) and Hillary Clinton take part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) and Hillary Clinton take part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: (L-R) Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley take part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Meanwhile, American Crossroads, a group co-founded by Karl Rove, is airing an ad in Iowa bolstering a core tenet of Sanders' case against Clinton: that she has received large sums of campaign contributions from Wall Street, and therefore can't be trusted to crack down on big banks. "Hillary rewarded Wall Street with a $700 billion bailout, then Wall Street made her a multi-millionaire," a narrator in the ad says. "Does Iowa really want Wall Street in the White House?"

READ MORE: Clinton, Sanders Fight for Title of Obama's Heir in South Carolina

These Republican operatives are attempting to pick their Democratic opponent in the general election, and they're making clear they'd rather face Sanders than Clinton. It is age-old political manipulation tactic, typically used with some subtlety. It comes as recent polls show Sanders as competitive in Iowa and leading in New Hampshire, where back-to-back Sanders victories could endanger Clinton's national lead.

"In Iowa, American Crossroads is helping Bernie Sanders by depicting Hillary Clinton as a Wall Street insider," Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, wrote on his blog.

READ MORE: Report Card: Confident Sanders Stands Toe-to-Toe With Clinton

"My guess is that Republican operatives know that Clinton is likely to win the nomination even if Sanders upsets her in Iowa and New Hampshire. But an extended challenge will force her to use up money too early, and nudge her farther to the left," Pitney wrote in an e-mail to Bloomberg. Whether it will work remains to be seen, he said. "But at this stage, campaigns will grab for every advantage they can get."

Priorities USA, a group backing Clinton, said the ad was designed by Republicans to "interfere with our primary process" and "attempt to clear their path to the White House."

At Sunday night's debate, Clinton made a note of the ad, too. "I'm the one they don't want to be up against," she said, referring to the financial sector.

10 facts you should know about Bernie Sanders:

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10 things you don't know about Bernie Sanders
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Republican operatives are trying to help Bernie Sanders

1. He's a socialist, and he doesn't deny it. When he ran for office in 1990 he responded to an ad trying to link him to Fidel Castro by saying,  "I am a socialist and everyone knows that."
 

(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

2. He used to moonlight as a comedy actor, appearing in the 1999 film "My X-Girlfriends Wedding Reception."

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

4. He made headlines in in 2010 when he tried to block a deal that included a tax cut extension for the wealthy with a filibuster-like stand. The stunt trended on Twitter with the hashtag #filibernie and later crashed the Senate video server.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

5. He is not religious. While all past presidents have been openly religious and Christian, Sanders says he identifies as Jewish but doesn't practice. 

 (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

7. He grew up in a working class family in Brooklyn, and his father was a Polish immigrant.

 (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

8. He released an album called 'We Shall Overcome' in which he reads speeches about peace and justice with a choir singing in the background. It's available on iTunes. 

(Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call/Getty Images)

9. He is a big believer in Scandinavian political thinking and has said that the U.S. should adopt some of their principles, including the idea that health care should be a right, and higher education should be free.

 (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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The efforts indicate that Republicans aren't buying recent polls that show Sanders out-performing Clinton in hypothetical head-to-head match-ups against GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump. One reason may be that, unlike Sanders, Clinton has been through the wringer of Republican attacks. While a spokesman for Sanders didn't immediately return a request for comment on the Republican attempts to boost him, the senator went out of his way in Sunday's debate to invoke recent surveys to make the case that he's electable.

"In terms of polling, guess what? We are running ahead of Secretary Clinton in terms of taking on my taking on my good friend, Donald Trump," Sanders said. A NBC/Wall Street Journalpoll finds him leading Trump nationally by 15 points, while Clinton leads Trump by 10 points.

Republican candidate John Kasich indicated in a debate last week that he'd love to face Sanders. "We're going to win every state," he said, "if Bernie Sanders is the nominee."

Read Republican Operatives Are Trying to Help Bernie Sanders on bloombergpolitics.com

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