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As Bernie Sanders Climbs, His Supporters Say Thanks For Noticing05:56
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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a climate rally with the Sunrise Movement at The Graduate Hotel, Jan. 12, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a climate rally with the Sunrise Movement at The Graduate Hotel, Jan. 12, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

With the Iowa Caucus less than three weeks away, and the New Hampshire Primary a week after that, Bernie Sanders is surging. He is raising more money than any of his Democratic competitors, and is at or near the top in several recent polls.

"I just feel that he is the one who can beat Trump by a wide margin," said Diane St. Germain, of Bedford, New Hampshire, who supported Sanders in 2016 and has been knocking on doors for him over the past three months.

"He has the movement behind him, he has the energy behind him and he is the one who will mobilize voters who are disgusted with the system because he's been so honest and because he works for the people," she said Saturday morning, while volunteering at a Sanders field office in Manchester.

But like many of Sanders' supporters, St. Germain said the Vermont senator has been too often overlooked — discounted by the media and the Democratic Party establishment.

"There was virtually a blackout on the mainstream cable stations over the past few months," she said. "It's only recently that they're recognizing that he is the strongest candidate to beat Trump, and they're doing so reluctantly."

Sanders greets member of the audience after speaking at a campaign stop at St. Ambrose University, Jan. 11, 2020, in Davenport, Iowa. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Sanders greets member of the audience after speaking at a campaign stop at St. Ambrose University, Jan. 11, 2020, in Davenport, Iowa. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

St. Germain's complaint is shared by many Sanders supporters across New Hampshire. It was born in 2016, when major TV networks frequently ignored Sanders' events while feasting on Donald Trump's rowdy rallies. But this year is different. According to analyses by Politico and FiveThirtyEight, Sanders is getting plenty of coverage.

But his supporters still have a beef: they say many in the press are biased against Sanders because they see him as a candidate who is too far to the left and cannot win. And his supporters might have a point.

"The reason why the media doesn't take him perhaps as seriously as they should is because they believe there is a ceiling for Bernie Sanders," said Adrienne Elrod, a political strategist who worked on Hilary Clinton's presidential campaign, at a WBUR political forum in November.

Elrod said Sanders' support has ebbed and flowed "from 19% to 22%" thanks to a loyal following, but that many in the press believe it won't go any higher.

And yet, since resuming his campaign following a heart attack in October, Sanders has only gained momentum. He raised $34.5 million in the final quarter of last year — far more than his Democratic rivals — while polls show him close to or in the lead in Iowa and New Hampshire. Sanders says the money and the polls are a testament to the power of growing grassroots support.

"They think the more we say it — that he has a ceiling — that it will become a reality, but we continue, quarter after quarter, to prove them wrong."

Nina Turner, national co-chair for Bernie Sanders' campaign

"What I am proud to tell you is that as of this date we have received more contributions from more Americans than any candidate," he said at a rally in Keene, New Hampshire last fall. "Not just in this campaign, but in the history of American politics at this point."

Nina Turner, a national co-chair of Sanders' presidential campaign, challenges the skeptics who say his support has topped out.

"They think the more we say it — that he has a ceiling — that it will become a reality, but we continue, quarter after quarter, to prove them wrong," she said.

Turner was in New Hampshire this past weekend to rally Sanders volunteers — and to dismiss the idea that he can't win.

"I got the receipts [to prove] that," she said. "Five million donations to the senator's campaign. We out-raised Mr. Buttigieg, who went to the wine cave. We out-raised everybody! So, the movement is growing, as much as they begrudge it."

In 2016, many observers claimed another presidential candidate who challenged political orthodoxy had a ceiling. That was Donald Trump. Turner said the idea that Sanders can't win comes from establishment Democrats, and from a skeptical political press, who she said are threatened by a potential Sanders victory.

But Barney Frank, the former Massachusetts Congressman, disagrees, and said Sanders' supporters are just intolerant of opposing views.

"They have a kind of one-sided view," Frank said. "They are entitled to be very critical of the policy views of other people, but if people reciprocate by being critical of their policy views, somehow that's unfair and it's almost a conspiracy against him."

Frank, who has not yet endorsed a Democratic presidential candidate, said he would work hard for Sanders if he wins the nomination. But Frank argues that while many Americans would support the Vermont senator on a number of issues — such as a higher minimum wage and higher taxes on the rich, they are less supportive of big programs like Medicare For All, which would require a massive expansion of the federal government.

"We have this problem right now in which government is unpopular while the individual components are popular," he said. "And so, people do not agree with [Sanders] as much as he says. I do not think a majority of the Americans prefer socialism to capitalism."

But Carlos Cardona, the Democratic Party Chair in Laconia, New Hampshire, which sits in Republican-heavy Belknap County, pushes back on Frank's argument. Cardona supports Sanders, and said a progressive agenda can win in rural counties like his, which he said are crucial to Democratic hopes of retaking the White House.

"In 2016, we chose incremental, slow and steady — and we lost," Cardona said. "So, I say we give a chance to the progressive agenda."

And yet Cardona said he understands why Sanders makes establishment Democrats nervous.

"Change is difficult," he said.

This segment aired on January 16, 2020.

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Anthony Brooks Twitter Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.

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