Hillary’s Democratic challenger draws big crowds

Bernie Sanders may be a long-shot against favourite Hillary Clinton, but he is still drawing bigger crowds than any other presidential candidate

July 08, 2015 06:31 pm | Updated November 17, 2021 03:08 am IST - PORTLAND (Maine):

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Portland, Maine, on Monday. Mr. Sanders is drawing crowds: 10,000 people in Madison, Wisconsin. More than 2,500 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Another 7,500 this week in Portland.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Portland, Maine, on Monday. Mr. Sanders is drawing crowds: 10,000 people in Madison, Wisconsin. More than 2,500 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Another 7,500 this week in Portland.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders may be a long-shot against favourite Hillary Rodham Clinton, but he is still drawing bigger crowds than any other presidential candidate, up to 10,000 people at one event.

The trick for the independent senator from Vermont and self-described democratic socialist is to turn all that excitement into something more than a summer fling. Will those supporters turn out in key states that hold the first nominating contests in next year’s primary race?

“We’ve only been a declared candidate for two months,” Mr. Sanders said recently in Iowa. “In a certain sense, our momentum is outpacing our infrastructure.”

Infrastructure matters

In presidential politics, infrastructure matters. For Mr. Sanders to turn his insurgent campaign into an honest challenge against an unquestioned frontrunner like Ms. Clinton, he will need to convert those willing to come hear him speak in the summer of 2015 into volunteers, donors and ultimately voters in 2016.

For all the crowds that Mr. Sanders is attracting, and the attention he’s getting for them, he remains far behind Ms. Clinton in the work of building a big campaign organisation. He has a few more than 50 paid staffers in all. Ms. Clinton has nearly 50 in Iowa alone, as well as at least one in every other state.

“The grassroots movement behind this campaign has been much faster than I think anyone could have anticipated,” said Mr. Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver. “The organisation is trying to catch up to where the people are.”

More than 100 people crowded into the Better Day Cafe in Storm Lake to hear Mr. Sanders. A table at the front of the restaurant held clipboards with sign-up sheets, where people could fill in their name, email address and phone number as well as a box to check if they planned to caucus for Sanders. By the end of the event, many had signed up, but few had checked the box indicating how they’ll vote.

‘Big jump soon’

Mr. Weaver said the infrastructure needed to turnout supporters for the caucuses is coming soon. Mr. Sanders has more than 20 paid staffers in Iowa, with more scheduled to come aboard next month. In New Hampshire, he has four paid staffers, but the state will get a “big jump soon,” Mr. Weaver said.

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