Many people have been skeptical, dismissive or even critical of Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the 2016 Democratic nomination. Some have said that he doesn’t stand a chance, or that he would split the vote like Ralph Nader did in 2000, without realizing that Bernie Sanders is not running as a third-party candidate. Others have said that everyone else should just stand aside and allow Hillary Clinton to get the nomination by default, an idea that a lot of people on the left (myself included) view as an order to sit down and shut up.
However, a new straw poll in Wisconsin shows that Hillary Clinton could have more of a battle on her hands than originally expected. As The Nation points out, Hillary Clinton still has a strong advantage nationally and is still considered the favorite to win the nomination, but this poll demonstrates that there is a dissatisfaction with her candidacy that should not be dismissed as just the grumbling of the “professional left.”
Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist and a long-shot for the White House, scored a strong second-place finish to Clinton by drawing 41 percent in a straw poll vote at the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention. Clinton won 49 percent.
The Vermont senator received 208 of 511 delegate votes at the state convention in Milwaukee on Saturday, while Clinton won votes from 252 of the delegates, leaving her just short of a majority. Both Vice President Joe Biden and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who announced his candidacy late last month, received three percent of the vote. Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who is considering a bid, won two percent of the vote, while former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who announced his long-shot candidacy last week, received one percent.
Can Bernie Sanders translate this showing in a straw poll nearly eight months ahead of the Iowa caucus into a strong finish in Iowa and New Hampshire? I think it is very possible, for a couple of reasons.
First of all, Bernie Sanders’ message isn’t really very radical when you look past the talking points of establishment-friendly pundits on both sides who jump up and down and scream about him being too far to the left, or the fact that he calls himself a democratic socialist.
When he was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1981, critics had an absolute meltdown that a socialist was in charge of their city. However, some of his ideas which were considered radical but implemented anyhow, are now used in many cities across the country.
Early in Sanders’ tenure, his treasurer discovered $200,000 in the city’s coffers and the mayor determined to plow it into a bold initiative. Inspired by the garden cities of England, Isreali kibbutzim and Indian communes set up by the followers of Gandhi, he proposed to buy land and hold it in a communal trust for affordable housing, while the housing itself would be owned by occupants.
An opposition group, Homeowners Against the Land Trust, or HALT, labeled it a “communist scheme.” But the plan went through. In 1984, the Burlington Community Land Trust became one of the first affordable housing trusts in the world, and the very first to receive municipal funding. Today, there are over 250 such trusts in the United States — in places like Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Boston and Chapel Hill, North Carolina — most of which receive some form of government funding. (Source)
Another advantage that Bernie Sanders has over Hillary Clinton with moderates and left-leaning libertarians (they do exist) is that, to the likely chagrin of many on the left, he has a record of opposing gun safety legislation. As Steve Benen at The Maddow Blog mentions, it’s not likely that he will make this part of his 2016 campaign, but it would seriously negate any NRA-funded propaganda against him should that issue be raised. Sure, I’d like to see stricter regulations on high-capacity magazines, armor-piercing rounds and private sales at gun shows, but I am willing to overlook his history on guns as well as his stance on GMO labeling in exchange for his support for free higher education and breaking up the biggest banks.
People are also tired of hyper-partisan, negative politics and Bernie Sanders is listening to them by refusing to run a negative campaign. He also doesn’t have the battle scars and fake scandals from the decades of Republican attacks that Hillary Clinton does, something they’re sure to ramp up should his poll numbers continue to rise. Sure, Hillary Clinton has the Super PACs and the name recognition, but Bernie Sanders shouldn’t be counted out as a serious player in the 2016 presidential primaries.
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