Bernie Sanders: An unvarnished candidate, a surprising campaign

Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane, acknowledge the crowd as he arrives for his caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Feb. 1.
Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane, acknowledge the crowd as he arrives for his caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Feb. 1. The Associated Press

Nine months ago, Bernie Sanders walked up to a small bank of microphones near the U.S. Capitol and launched an implausible campaign for a political revolution.

Looking a little disheveled with his unruly white hair, Sanders cut to the chase. No flowery speech from the independent senator from Vermont. He was curt. He didn’t have a lot of time to answer questions. He was running for president, and he was, he told the gathering, “in it to win.”

It was a meager crowd, a few dozen people. Most were reporters and photographers. A few people wandered by and took photos with their cellphones. Sanders took six questions, then cut off the news conference.

“I’ve got to get going,” he said, and he walked away.

The image of a curmudgeonly 74-year-old making such a low-key announcement for the highest office in the world was a bit baffling. Is that it? How far would he get with that no-frills, no-flags approach?

Donald Trump descended an escalator. Hillary Clinton released a slick two-minute video. Ted Cruz tweeted. Other candidates staged grand affairs.

Sanders spoke for about 10 minutes and stated why he was running for president, speaking passionately about what ails America: income inequality, a broken campaign finance system, climate change, unemployment and the need to rebuild America’s infrastructure, free college tuition. And off he went.

How far he had come, from having so few supporters in the audience April 30, to the large, raucous crowd of “Bernstormers” after the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses. He was polling at 6.6 percent in Iowa in April, and Clinton was at 60 percent. After Iowa’s Democrats caucused Monday, Clinton eked out a very slim victory.

The image of Sanders speaking to the crowd at the end of that winter night in Iowa was dramatically different from that spring day in D.C. He was working the packed auditorium, as the crowd chanted and cheered.

Even Sanders seemed a little surprised Monday night.

Most media have dismissed Sanders’ candidacy. In-depth reporting on the issues he raises has been scant. The media coverage has been predominantly that of a horse race, driven by polls of people who may vote or not.

But the issues on which he has based his candidacy resonate with voters, young and old, who want to change the way government works for the people of this country. They like the authentic and unvarnished candidate, who is unlike others who seem polled and packaged.

In April, Sanders was questioned about playing the role of challenger to Clinton’s seemingly inevitable nomination. He turned the question around: “The question is: If you raise the issues that are on the hearts and minds of the American people, if you try to put together a movement that says we have to stand together as a people … that is winning an election.”

On Monday night, Sanders seemed confident that he had ignited a political revolt with his campaign on issues that matter to people.

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