In Iowa, a race to be Clin­ton’s top ri­val

San­ders sprints ahead with a fo­cus on pro­gres­sive is­sues, while O’Malley strug­gles to gain his foot­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY JOHN WAG­NER john.wag­ner@wash­

coun­cil bluffs, iowa — Bernie San­ders and Martin O’Malley, two can­di­dates vy­ing to be­come the chief chal­lenger to Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, criss­crossed Iowa over the past few days, stop­ping in some of the same cities and march­ing in small-town Fourth of July pa­rades.

But at this point in the race, they could hardly be in dif­fer­ent places.

Dur­ing his swing, San­ders, the in­de­pen­dent sen­a­tor from Ver­mont, drew more than 2,500 peo­ple to a con­ven­tion cen­ter here — a record crowd for Iowa. Sup­port­ers leapt to their feet and screamed as he de­cried the “grotesque level” of in­come in­equal­ity in the coun­try and the out­size in­flu­ence of the “bil­lion­aire class” on its pol­i­tics.

O’Malley’s big­gest turnout dur­ing his three-day trip was 119 peo­ple, who gath­ered in the side room of a sub­ur­ban bar out­side Des Moines. The for­mer Mary­land gover­nor’s pitch in­cluded a self-deprecating joke about how lit­tle known he re­mains in the state that will hold the na­tion’s first cau­cuses in Fe­bru­ary.

Pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics are re­plete with can­di­dates who get hot dur­ing the sum­mer only to fiz­zle in the fall. But the early rise of San­ders — a self-de­scribed demo­cratic so­cial­ist — un­der­scores how hun­gry the pro­gres­sive base of the Demo­cratic Party is for a truly au­then­tic al­ter­na­tive to Clin­ton.

As his crowds have swelled in re­cent weeks, San­ders’s poll num­bers have jumped in Iowa and New Hamp­shire. O’Malley and the other more main­stream Demo­cratic hope­fuls, mean­while, have stalled in the low sin­gle dig­its. For­mer sen­a­tor Jim Webb of Vir­ginia, who jumped into the race Thurs­day, and for­mer Rhode Is­land sen­a­tor and gover­nor Lin­coln Chafee have also stepped for­ward to chal­lenge Clin­ton.

Scores of in­ter­views sug­gest San­ders has clearly tapped into the anx­i­eties of re­ces­sion-weary vot­ers, many of whom feel com­pletely alien­ated from Washington.

Echo­ing many oth­ers who came to see San­ders here, Steve Pine­gar, a 33-year-old heat­ing and air-con­di­tion­ing tech­ni­cian, said he is look­ing for some­one out­side the es­tab­lish­ment and said he thinks that San­ders is the only can­di­date for the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion who is speak­ing to him.

“I don’t want to vote for any­one who’s part of the grand scheme,” Pine­gar said, adding that he has grown dis­il­lu­sioned with Pres­i­dent Obama’s lack of progress on work­ing-class is­sues. “I was all hopey-changey last time, but I’m done with that. . . . I feel like me and Bernie San­ders, we could go have lunch and talk about the is­sues.”

Much of San­ders’s hour-long stump speech fo­cuses on is­sues that could af­fect the wal­lets of work­ers like Pine­gar. San­ders wants to raise the min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour. He wants to guar­an­tee fam­ily leave, sick time and va­ca­tion time — Amer­i­cans are work­ing too long, he says. He wants to make col­lege free. And he prom­ises that as pres­i­dent he would make cor­po­ra­tions and the wealthy pay more in taxes while try­ing to cut taxes for those in lower brack­ets.

“The greed of the bil­lion­aire class and cor­po­rate Amer­ica is de­stroy­ing this great coun­try,” San­ders said Fri­day night, of­fer­ing one of a few dozen lines that pro­duced sus­tained ap­plause from a crowd that in­cluded many Ne­braskans from across the river.

Build­ing on mo­men­tum

Some of San­ders’s largest au­di­ences lately have been in states with­out early nom­i­nat­ing con­tests, in­clud­ing in Madi­son, Wis., where he at­tracted 10,000 peo­ple Wed­nes­day.

It was clear from the out­set of the race that there would be a bloc of non-Clin­ton vot­ers, and polling sug­gests that San­ders — at least for now — has man­aged to cor­ral most of them. That in­cludes Democrats who were pin­ing to see Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren (D-Mass.), a dar­ling of the left, get into the race. She has sug­gested re­cently that she might cam­paign for San­ders.

A Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity poll re­leased last week showed Clin­ton draw­ing 52 per­cent of likely Demo­cratic cau­cus­go­ers in Iowa, with San­ders at 33 per­cent. O’Malley lagged with 3 per­cent, fol­lowed by Webb and Chafee, with 1 per­cent each.

San­ders’s num­bers have been higher in New Hamp­shire, where vot­ers are more fa­mil­iar with him, given his rep­re­sen­ta­tion of neigh­bor­ing Ver­mont. A re­cent poll from the Gran­ite State showed San­ders trail­ing Clin­ton by eight per­cent­age points.

Joe Trippi, a long­time Demo­cratic strate­gist, said San­ders’s chal­lenge will be to build on the mo­men­tum he has es­tab­lished and show that he can demon­strate a broader ap­peal than just to the party’s left wing.

“If you’re go­ing to run a cam­paign based on ‘I’m fur­ther to the left of the es­tab­lish­ment,’ there’s a ready-made au­di­ence,” said Trippi, who ran the 2004 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of for­mer Ver­mont gover­nor Howard Dean.

Dean surged in that race based on anti-Iraq war sen­ti­ment only to col­lapse as vot­ing be­gan. Then Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), a can­di­date with more es­tab­lish­ment sup­port, emerged as the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee. Trippi said part of the rea­son Dean lost sup­port is peo­ple be­gan to ques­tion whether he was the strong­est can­di­date to beat Ge­orge W. Bush in the gen­eral elec­tion.

The O’Malley camp is bet­ting on a sim­i­lar phe­nom­e­non this cy­cle: that once vot­ers get to know all the can­di­dates bet­ter, they will see O’Malley as a more vi­able al­ter­na­tive than San­ders. O’Malley, 52, has also been cast­ing him­self as a part of a “new gen­er­a­tion” of lead­ers, a con­trast with both Clin­ton, who is 67, and San­ders, who is 73.

In an in­ter­view fol­low­ing a stop Thurs­day in Wau­kee, O’Malley said San­ders has been on the rise partly be­cause vot­ers see him for now as a “protest can­di­date.”

“Peo­ple feel like big money has sub­sumed, taken over, their pol­i­tics, and they’re frus­trated by it,” O’Malley said. “Peo­ple feel like their voices don’t mat­ter. Peo­ple feel like they’re not be­ing heard, and right now, they want to protest about that. I’m not run­ning for protest can­di­date; I’m run­ning for pres­i­dent of the United States.”

O’Malley’s three-day swing has fo­cused on his plan to ad­dress cli­mate change by mov­ing the coun­try’s elec­tric­ity con­sump­tion en­tirely to clean energy by 2050. Aides say other more sub­stan­tive pro­pos­als will help set him apart in com­ing months.

O’Malley, who served for eight years as Mary­land’s gover­nor and seven years as Bal­ti­more mayor, is also in­creas­ingly tout­ing his ex­ec­u­tive ex­pe­ri­ence as an as­set. In con­trast to San­ders, who talks a lot about leg­is­la­tion he has in­tro­duced, O’Malley touts bills that he mus­cled through in Mary­land to le­gal­ize same-sex mar­riage, abol­ish the death penalty and pro­vide new ben­e­fits to im­mi­grants.

“There’s a great dis­tance in say­ing what we’re for and ac­tu­ally ac­com­plish­ing things,” O’Malley told a crowd of about 70 peo­ple who came to see him at a cof­fee­house in New­ton on Fri­day.

Sway­ing vot­ers

Some an­a­lysts sug­gest O’Malley waited too long to get into the race. By the time of O’Malley’s May 30 an­nounce­ment, San­ders had al­ready made sig­nif­i­cant head­way with pro­gres­sive vot­ers look­ing for an al­ter­na­tive to Clin­ton.

“Peo­ple were look­ing for some­one to get in that space, and Martin was play­ing coy, and Bernie wasn’t,” said one Demo­cratic con­sul­tant for­merly em­ployed by O’Malley who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to speak more freely.

In New­ton and else­where, there is ev­i­dence that O’Malley is mak­ing strides with vot­ers that doesn’t show up in a mean­ing­ful way yet in the polls.

Su­san Daniels, a re­tired prop­erty man­ager, said she came to the event in New­ton “to ex­pand my hori­zons” by hear­ing from a can­di­date she didn’t know much about. She left in­clined to cau­cus for O’Malley, im­pressed by his com­mand of de­tails with­out notes. She also has nag­ging doubts about sup­port­ing Clin­ton.

In­ter­views, how­ever, also sug­gest that San­ders sup­port­ers might be harder to peel off than peo­ple think. While some who at­tend his events are still shop­ping for a can­di­date, many ar­rive al­ready sold.

Daryl Kothen­beu­tel, a re­tired owner of a prairie seed busi­ness, drove about 90 min­utes from Clear Lake to Fort Dodge on Thurs­day to see San­ders for the third time in re­cent weeks. He said he has been most im­pressed with San­ders’s com­mit­ment to fight­ing cli­mate change and that he likes his other pre­scrip­tions for the coun­try.

“The man, I think, is our last hope for Amer­ica. I re­ally do,” said Kothen­beu­tel, 71. “Hil­lary seems to bring up ev­ery­thing af­ter Bernie does,” Kothen­beu­tel said.

Tad Devine, a strate­gist for San­ders, said he thinks San­ders’s sup­port will con­tinue to grow, in part be­cause he has the abil­ity to at­tract new vot­ers to the race, as Obama did in 2008. Once party elites be­gin to un­der­stand that, Devine sug­gested, he said he thinks San­ders has the po­ten­tial to win more back­ing from the Demo­cratic es­tab­lish­ment.

San­ders made head­way with en­dorse­ments over the week­end in New Hamp­shire, win­ning the sup­port of long­time party ac­tivist Dud­ley Dud­ley.

Dud­ley, who in the 1970s be­came the high­est serv­ing woman in the state’s history as an ex­ec­u­tive coun­cilor, hosted a house party in Durham for O’Malley just two months ago.

She told CNN that she has noth­ing against O’Malley, but she likes the way San­ders de­liv­ers his mes­sage.

“He has a way of stat­ing it in a way that is no-non­sense and so straight­for­ward,” Dud­ley said.


Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.) speaks Thurs­day atMorn­ing­side Col­lege in Sioux City, Iowa. San­ders drew crowds in the state by tack­ling blue-col­lar top­ics like the min­i­mum wage, fam­ily leave and tu­ition costs.

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