Candidates & CampaignsPolitics

Bernie Sanders’s Long-Shot Campaign Is Picking up Speed

By: Peter Nicholas –  

(Des Moines, Iowa)—It’s the sort of problem many candidates would envy. Sen. Bernie Sanders is drawing large, ebullient crowds that are taxing an upstart presidential campaign that wasn’t expected to go very far.

The Vermont independent, a favorite of the Democratic Party’s liberal wing, is being feted by standing room-only audiences that in some cases surpass those of front-runner Hillary Clinton.

More than 3,000 came to a Sanders speech in Minneapolis in May; 700 attended his speech at Drake University here Friday night, about the same number who went to a Hillary Clinton event on Sunday that featured a buffet table and a live band. More than 3,000 people have RSVP’d for a Sanders rally in Denver on Saturday, the campaign says.

A Suffolk University poll released Tuesday showed Mrs. Clinton with a surprisingly narrow lead over Mr. Sanders—41% to 31%—in the early-voting state of New Hampshire. In May, a Bloomberg/St. Anselm College poll had found Mrs. Clinton with a 44-point lead in the state.

The Bernie boomlet is forcing the campaign to improvise. Aides have set up loudspeakers for people left outside Sanders events, and scrambled to find larger venues to accommodate unexpected crowds who relish his attacks on what he calls the “cocky billionaire class.”

Sanders rallies offer few frills and a minimal entourage. Mrs. Clinton, who as a former first lady receives Secret Service protection, traveled through Iowa over the weekend in a seven-car motorcade. Mr. Sanders drove around in a rented Chevy with a pair of aides.

At Mrs. Clinton’s Saturday rally in New York, campaign volunteers met people getting off the subway at Roosevelt Island and gave directions. At the Drake event, someone scrawled “Bernie” in chalk on a sidewalk with an arrow pointing to the right building.

A Sanders audience gets a long speech laden with statistics and policy details from a rumpled candidate whose hair looks perpetually uncombed. It goes over well.

Tyson Manker, an Iraq war veteran, said he drove six hours from his home in central Illinois to hear Mr. Sanders’s Drake speech. “The man has always spoken truth to power,” he said. “He has the backs of veterans and working people.” Invoking a phrase from then-Senator Barack Obama’s 2008 insurgent presidential bid, he said: “I’m fired up and ready to go.”

The 73-year-old Mr. Sanders is particularly popular among young voters, who say they are drawn to his grandfatherly image. Joe Thoms, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Central College in Pella, Iowa, said Mr. Sanders is his top pick for the Democratic nomination, as well as that of his friends, based on his directness and enthusiasm.

A question for the bare-bones Sanders campaign is whether it can capitalize on this enthusiasm and provide more than a rhetorical challenge to the Clinton campaign.

At one event in Iowa on Sunday, a young Sanders supporter was having a hard time figuring out how he could help. “I would love to work for the campaign,” said Levi Grenko, a 24-year-old social-media manager who lives in Centerville, Iowa. “But I don’t know how.”

Team Sanders is trying to fix that. At events, a Sanders aide has been urging people to text a certain number—a way for the campaign to provide information about events and capture details about Sanders supporters.

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