Sup­port for San­ders pres­i­dency gath­ers steam

Can­di­date with bat­tle cry for ‘po­lit­i­cal revo­lu­tion’ poses a se­ri­ous threat to Clin­ton

Toronto Star - - WORLD - DANIEL DALE WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

WASHINGTON— In the early 1970s, a young left-wing rad­i­cal from New York, Bernie San­ders, would run into a young po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor, Gar­ri­son Nel­son, in a li­brary at the Univer­sity of Ver­mont. San­ders would tell Nel­son about his plans to chal­lenge the in­flu­ence of the bil­lion­aire Rock­e­feller fam­ily.

“I would just laugh. I’d say, ‘The man is delu­sional,’ ” Nel­son re­called. “I’d smile and send him on his way to go to the movies and fig­ure out how he was go­ing to ‘undo the Rock­e­fellers.’ ”

The young rad­i­cal is now an old rad­i­cal. Say­ing the same con­temp­tu­ous things about bil­lion­aires in the same Brook­lyn bark, he has be­come a le­git­i­mate con­tender for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

“I’m stunned. Stunned. It’s be­yond belief,” said Nel­son, who re­mains a San­ders ac­quain­tance. “When I see these crowds, in Cal­i­for­nia, in Texas, I say, ‘My God, this is just un­real.’ ”

Twenty-seven thou­sand in Los An­ge­les. More than 25,000 in pro­gres­sive Port­land. Eight thou­sand in con­ser­va­tive Dal­las. San­ders, a 74-yearold “demo­cratic so­cial­ist” with lit­tle re­gard for tra­di­tional cam­paign re­quire­ments such as smil­ing, has drawn the big­gest crowds of any can­di­date from ei­ther party.

Call­ing for a “po­lit­i­cal revo­lu­tion,” San­ders has over­taken favourite Hil­lary Clin­ton in the first two vot­ing states, Iowa and New Hamp­shire. Last week, he an­nounced the feat that fi­nally got Amer­ica’s mon­eytalks po­lit­i­cal class to take him se­ri­ously: he raised $26 mil­lion (U.S.) over the past three months, just shy of Clin­ton’s $28 mil­lion and bet­ter than Barack Obama over the com­pa­ra­ble pe­riod in 2007.

He col­lected that cash while re­fus- ing to hold swanky fundrais­ers — or many fundrais­ers at all — and while rail­ing against the cor­po­rate ti­tans whom can­di­dates usu­ally ask to write cheques. The haul came largely from grass­roots donors who con­trib­uted online. The av­er­age do­na­tion, his cam­paign said, was $30.

Brad Coo­ley, a 19-year-old com­puter science stu­dent at Ari­zona State Univer­sity, had never heard of San­ders un­til he came across his name this spring on Red­dit, where San­ders has amassed a zeal­ous fol­low­ing. Coo­ley now gives San­ders $5 ev­ery month. When he has some spare cash, he chips in another $10 or $15.

“He’s the only politi­cian that’s ever made me ex­cited for pol­i­tics or for be­ing part of the po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity in this coun­try,” Coo­ley said.

Ev­ery Demo­cratic pri­mary pro­duc- es a lib­eral al­ter­na­tive to the es­tab­lish­ment choice. None — not Bill Bradley, not Howard Dean — has of­fered a plat­form nearly so am­bi­tious. San­ders, a two-term Ver­mont sen­a­tor elected both times as an In­de­pen­dent, is push­ing the kind of un­abashed big-gov­ern­ment agenda that Canada’s NDP might de­liver if it set up shop in the United States and evicted all its cen­trists.

And he is do­ing it with un­re­strained anger. Though he is a ca­reer politi­cian, he ra­di­ates an anti-es­tab­lish­ment rage that res­onates in the era of stag­nant mid­dle-class wages, grow­ing in­come in­equal­ity and bil­lion­aire-backed Su­per PACs.

His crusty sin­cer­ity is es­pe­cially ap­peal­ing to vot­ers who be­lieve the cau­tious Clin­ton is in­au­then­tic in her pro­fessed con­cern for “ev­ery­day Amer­i­cans.” In sub­stance and in style, he is ex­pos­ing Clin­ton’s weak­nesses. “Bernie is talk­ing to the mid­dle-and-be­low guy that is just screwed, and no­body else is re­ally ad­dress­ing what’s hap­pen­ing to them,” said Peter von Sneidern, 70, a re­tired mo­tor­cy­cle shop owner and the for­mer party chair in the New Hamp­shire town of Tem­ple.

San­ders calls in­come in­equal­ity “the great moral is­sue of our time.” He says he would pur­sue a Scan­di­navia-style uni­ver­sal health care sys­tem, make public univer­si­ties free, dou­ble the fed­eral min­i­mum wage to $15, spend $1tril­lion over five years to re­pair in­fra­struc­ture, break up big banks and change the Con­sti­tu­tion to curb the cam­paign clout of “the bil­lion­aire class.”

Like con­ser­va­tive crit­ics of Don­ald Trump, Clin­ton sup­port­ers say San­ders would get eaten alive by op­po­si­tion op­er­a­tives in a gen­eral elec­tion.

“I know that the (Repub­li­can) Karl Rove team has one goal in mind, and that’s to get Bernie the nom­i­na­tion. Be­cause he’s their dream can­di­date to run against,” said Bert Weiss, the Demo­cratic chair in the New Hamp­shire town of Chatham. The drama-hun­gry media can make San­ders’ chances sound bet­ter than they are. Among the non-white vot­ers par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant in the South, Clin­ton leads 76 per cent to 16 per cent, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent NBC poll. And Clin­ton’s over­all lead, while shrink­ing, is still large: Clin­ton is ahead of San­ders 65 to 35 per cent, a re­cent YouGov poll found.

Dan Payne, a Bos­ton-based Demo­cratic an­a­lyst, said the up­com­ing de­bates are a “big, big hur­dle” for a can­di­date he de­scribes as “rude.” Nel­son be­lieves San­ders is un­likely to do much bet­ter than his cur­rent 30-odd per cent of the na­tional vote.

“But he’s al­ready had an im­pact. He’ll have a ma­jor speak­ing role at the con­ven­tion, and he’s al­ready pushed the agenda.”

San­ders’s fer­vent fans — the Red­dit sol­diers and the New Hamp­shire re­tirees alike — are con­vinced he can win. Coo­ley cites Obama, who trailed Clin­ton by a sim­i­lar mar­gin at this time in 2007. Von Sneidern cites Je­sus Christ.

“Some­where,” von Sneidern said, “I saw some­thing that said, ‘Some­body thought that a so­cial­ist Jew couldn’t get any­where? Well, you celebrate his birth­day ev­ery De­cem­ber.’ ”

“Bernie (San­ders) is talk­ing to the mid­dle-and-be­low guy that is just screwed, and no­body else is re­ally ad­dress­ing what’s hap­pen­ing to them.” PETER VON SNEIDERN MO­TOR­CY­CLE SHOP OWNER

DAR­REN MCCOLLESTER/GETTY IM­AGES

Bernie San­ders, who con­sid­ers him­self a “demo­cratic so­cial­ist,” has passed Hil­lary Clin­ton in the first two vot­ing states, Iowa and New Hamp­shire.

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