Trump turns focus to Sanders as senator holds steady near top of the Democratic pack

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has been ramping up his attacks on Bernie Sanders as the Vermont senator has consistently stayed near the top of the Democratic pack.

Trump lobbed a fresh jab at Sanders on Sunday on Twitter, noting his rise in the polls, and brought him up throughout his rally on Thursday in Toledo. Trump's campaign sent out back-to-back emails blasting Sanders last week.

The moves are part of a deliberate shift in focus towards Sanders, a campaign official said. As Trump’s attacks are likely to do more to help Sanders than hurt him with Democratic voters, it's an indication the campaign is trying to put its finger on the scale in the weeks before voters begin weighing in.

“Wow! Crazy Bernie Sanders is surging in the polls, looking very good against his opponents in the Do Nothing Party,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “So what does this all mean? Stay tuned!”

Sanders shot back moments later, replying on Twitter, "It means you’re going to lose."

Sanders took a narrow lead in the most recent poll of Iowa voters, but the race there remains essentially a four-way dead heat less than a month before the critical first-in-the-nation caucuses. The Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa poll, released Friday, shows Sanders with 20 percent support among likely Democratic caucus-goers.

While Trump's campaign advisers believe the president has a good shot at defeating any of the Democratic contenders, they have said Sanders would be an easy mark because they believe his progressive policies would alienate moderate and independent voters.

But the campaign has also sought recently to go after Sanders’ character, not just his policies. In a campaign email sent Thursday, Sanders was described as a "wealthy, fossil-fuel guzzling millionaire” — a somewhat paradoxical attack from a billionaire who used to fly around in a private jet. In another on Wednesday, the campaign said Sanders "can't be trusted to defend American lives."

“He’s just another Hollywood-style hypocrite who demands working class Americans make sacrifices while he plays by his own rules and enjoys a lavish lifestyle," the campaign email on Thursday said.

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Less than three weeks after suffering a heart attack, the Democratic presidential contender is beginning what he's calling a "vigorous" return to campaigning with a rally expected to draw thousands of supporters to New York City on Saturday afternoon.
Less than three weeks after suffering a heart attack, the Democratic presidential contender is beginning what he's calling a "vigorous" return to campaigning with a rally expected to draw thousands of supporters to New York City on Saturday afternoon.
A Bernie2020 campaign sign is help up in the crowd as Sanders co-chair Sen. Nina Turner, joined by local politicians and hospital workers protest the imminent closure of Hahnemann University Hospital at a rally outside the Center City facilities in Philadelphia, PA on July 11, 2019. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, and former Vice President Joe Biden talk following a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., gesture to each other during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
PELLA, IA - JULY 04: An attendee hold a sign for U.S. Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during the 4th of July parade on July 4, 2019 in Pella, Iowa. The 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses will take place on Monday, February 3, 2020. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
PELLA, IA - JULY 04: U.S. Senator and 2020 presidential candidate v (I-VT) waves as he attends the 4th of July parade on July 4, 2019 in Pella, Iowa. The 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses will take place on Monday, February 3, 2020. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
PELLA, IA - JULY 04: U.S. Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) attends the 4th of July parade on July 4, 2019 in Pella, Iowa. The 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses will take place on Monday, February 3, 2020. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - JUNE 27: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks to the media after the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019 in Miami, Florida. A field of 20 Democratic presidential candidates was split into two groups of 10 for the first debate of the 2020 election, taking place over two nights at Knight Concert Hall of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful US Senator for Vermont Bernie Sanders speaks to the press in the Spin Room after participating in the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, June 27, 2019. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful former US Senator for Vermont Bernie Sanders looks on during the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, June 27, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful US Senator for Vermont Bernie Sanders speaks during the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, June 27, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
HOMESTEAD, USA - JUNE 27: Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2020 presidential candidate speaks to the media outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children a detention facility for incarcerated youths that have been detained by Homeland Security in Homestead, Florida, United States on June 27, 2019. (Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui T./Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A supporter of Democratic presidential candidate and US Senator, Bernie Sanders, holds up a sign during a rally inside the gymnasium at Clinton College, a historically black college in Rock Hill, SC on June, 23 2019. - Many of the Democratic candidates running for president were in South Carolina over the weekend to make appearances at the Democratic Party Convention and win the hearts of black voters. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
Danny Glover (L), Hollywood actor and supporter of Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, listens as Sanders gives a speech inside the gymnasium at Clinton College, a historically black college in Rock Hill, SC on June, 23 2019. Glover has been on the campaign trail opening for the Senator during his swing through South Carolina. - Many of the Democratic candidates running for president were in South Carolina over the weekend to make appearances at the Democratic Party Convention and win the hearts of black voters. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic Senator and presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, greets supporters after a speech at a packed rally inside the gymnasium at Clinton College, a historically black college, before a rally in Rock Hill, SC on June, 23 2019. - Many of the Democratic candidates running for president were in South Carolina over the weekend to make appearances at the Democratic Party Convention and win the hearts of black voters. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic Senator and presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, addresses the crowd at a packed rally inside the gymnasium at Clinton College, a historically black college, before a rally in Rock Hill, SC on June, 22 2019. - Many of the Democratic candidates running for president were in South Carolina over the weekend to make appearances at the Democratic Party Convention and win the hearts of black voters. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - 2019/05/31: U.S. Senator and presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, speaks at a campaign rally in Pasadena, California. The 2020 presidential hopeful spoke to supporters at the Pasadena Convention Center. This weekend Sanders will also attend the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention in San Francisco. (Photo by Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
PASADENA, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - 2019/05/31: Supporters of the Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders are seen holding letters that spell Bernie during a campaign rally in Pasadena, California. The 2020 presidential hopeful spoke to supporters at the Pasadena Convention Center. This weekend Sanders will also attend the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention in San Francisco. (Photo by Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - MAY 31: Sen. Bernie Sanders appears at a campaign rally at the Pasadena Convention Center on May 31, 2019 in Pasadena, California. Sanders and three other candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination - Sen. Kamala Harris, Julian Castro and Gov. Jay Inslee - will field questions at the Immigrant Unity and Freedom Presidential Forum of 2019 nearby, following the rally. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - 2019/05/31: Supporters of the Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders hold Bernie placards during a campaign rally in Pasadena, California. The 2020 presidential hopeful spoke to supporters at the Pasadena Convention Center. This weekend Sanders will also attend the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention in San Francisco. (Photo by Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
MONTPELIER, VT - MAY 25: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally in the capital of his home state of Vermont on May 25, 2019 in Montpelier, Vermont. This was the first Vermont rally of Sanders' 2020 campaign. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
SCHENLEY PLAZA, PITTSBURGH, PA, UNITED STATES - 2019/04/14: People holding Bernie signs during a Bernie Sanders rally campaign ahead of United States Presidential election. Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders rally in Pittsburgh, PA on the campaign trail for the bid in the 2020 election. (Photo by Aaron Jackendoff/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
SCHENLEY PLAZA, PITTSBURGH, PA, UNITED STATES - 2019/04/14: Bernie Sanders speaks to the crowd during his rally campaign ahead of United States Presidential election. Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders rally in Pittsburgh, PA on the campaign trail for the bid in the 2020 election. (Photo by Aaron Jackendoff/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
SCHENLEY PLAZA, PITTSBURGH, PA, UNITED STATES - 2019/04/14: Bernie Sanders speaks to the crowd during his rally campaign ahead of United States Presidential election. Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders rally in Pittsburgh, PA on the campaign trail for the bid in the 2020 election. (Photo by Aaron Jackendoff/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
SCHENLEY PLAZA, PITTSBURGH, PA, UNITED STATES - 2019/04/14: Bernie Sanders speaks to the crowd during his rally campaign ahead of United States Presidential election. Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders rally in Pittsburgh, PA on the campaign trail for the bid in the 2020 election. (Photo by Aaron Jackendoff/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 5: Flanked by Rev. Al Sharpton (L) and Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson (R) look on as Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at the National Action Network's annual convention, April 5, 2019 in New York City. A dozen 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are speaking at the organization's convention this week. Founded by Rev. Al Sharpton in 1991, the National Action Network is one of the most influential African American organizations dedicated to civil rights in America. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 05: Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I -VT) attends the National Action Network's annual convention on April 5, 2019 in New York City. A dozen 2020 Democratic presidential candidates will speak at the organization's convention this week. Founded by Rev. Al Sharpton in 1991, the National Action Network is one of the most influential African American organizations dedicated to civil rights in America. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MARCH 24: Supporters of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) listen during a campaign rally at Great Meadow Park in Fort Mason on March 24, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Thousands are expected to attend the rally as Sanders continues his California swing in preparation for the early 2020 primaries (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MARCH 24: Volunteer Ena Silva wears a hat she decorated during a campaign rally for 2020 Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at Great Meadow Park in Fort Mason on March 24, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Thousands are expected to attend the rally as Sanders continues his California swing in preparation for the early 2020 primaries (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MARCH 24: Souvenir t-shirts are seen outside a campaign rally for 2020 Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at Great Meadow Park in Fort Mason on March 24, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Thousands are expected to attend the rally as Sanders continues his California swing in preparation for the early 2020 primaries (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MARCH 24: Judy Canham holds a doll of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during a campaign rally at Great Meadow Park in Fort Mason on March 24, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Thousands are expected to attend the rally as Sanders continues his California swing in preparation for the early 2020 primaries (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MARCH 24: Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a campaign rally at the Great Meadow Park in Fort Mason on March 24, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Sanders, who is so far the top Democratic candidate in the race, is making the rounds in California which is considered a crucial 'first five' primary state by the Sanders campaign. California will hold on early primary on March 3, 2020. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 20: Democratic Presidential Candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) gives a speech during a single-day strike of University of California research and technical workers on the UCLA Westwood campus March 20, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Union leaders and students from UCLA also participated in the activities. Similar demonstrations were held at UC medical facilities across the state. Sen. Sanders formally announced in February that he is running for President in the 2020 campaign. (Photo bu Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - MARCH 14: 2020 Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) addresses the crowd at the Royal Family Life Center on March 14, 2019 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Sanders received 26 percent of the South Carolina Democratic vote in the 2020 race, eventually losing the nomination to Hillary Clinton. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - MARCH 14: 2020 Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) greets the crowd at the Royal family Life Center on March 14, 2019 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Sanders received 26 percent of the South Carolina Democratic vote in the 2020 race, eventually losing the nomination to Hillary Clinton. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
CONCORD, NH - MARCH 10: Supporters of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during a campaign event on March 10, 2019 in Concord, New Hampshire. Sanders who is so far the top Democratic candidate in the race is making the rounds in Iowa and New Hampshire. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - MARCH 09: 2020 Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) greets potential supporters at a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on March 9, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. Sanders who is so far the top Democratic candidate in the race is making the rounds in Iowa and New Hampshire. (Photo by Steve Pope/Getty Images)
Senator Bernie Sanders launched his 2020 presidential campaign at his alma mater, Brooklyn College, in his hometown Brooklyn, New York, US, on 2 March 2019. (Photo by Selcuk Acar/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Bernie Sanders, Independent US Senator from Vermont speaks on stage as he kicks-off his campaign for the 2020 U.S. Presidential Elections on a Democratic ticket at a rally at Brooklyn College, in Brooklyn, NY on March 2, 2019. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Bernie Sanders, Independent US Senator from Vermont speaks on stage as he kicks-off his campaign for the 2020 U.S. Presidential Elections on a Democratic ticket at a rally at Brooklyn College, in Brooklyn, NY on March 2, 2019. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 02: Bernie Sanders pins are on display during his first presidential campaign rally at Brooklyn College on March 02, 2019 in the Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Kena Betancur/VIEWpress/Corbis via Getty Images)
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Although Trump often refers to Sanders as "crazy Bernie," he has previously reserved his most stinging attacks for Democrats like Biden and Warren.

But at a campaign rally in Toledo Thursday, Trump went after Sanders several times, attacking the senator's health care plan and his criticism of the administration's decision to kill top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, while seeking to paint Sanders as a leader of the Democratic Party.

“Democrats are taking their cues from socialist Bernie Sanders," along with the group of freshman women in the House known as "The Squad," Trump said. "They're the leaders of the party."

Trump's attacks haven't gone unnoticed by Sanders.

"Some of you may have noticed that recently our campaign and me personally have been the target of attacks from Trump and the Republican party because they are catching on that our campaign is the campaign that can and win defeat them,” Sanders said at a town hall event in Newton, Iowa, on Saturday. "We are going to expose the fact that when Trump talks about being a friend of working people, he is a liar and a fraud."

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