Democrat’s own Jeremy Corbyn rouses bid to challenge Hillary Clinton – Telegraph.co.uk
“There is something profoundly wrong with the top one-tenth of one per cent own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 per cent. … Enough is enough,” he bellowed, as the cheers crescendoed. “That has got to end, and together we will end it.”
It is the sort of left-wing message that went out of fashion in American politics with the Sixties, when he put down roots in Vermont along with thousands of other hippies.
Yet his words are resonating in 2015. The 73-year-old might be an unlikely candidate for America’s top job, but there is a growing sense that he might be the only person who can prevent a Hillary coronation.
He has electrified the party base. A poll this week put him ahead of Mrs Clinton for the first time in the key early-voting state of New Hampshire. National figures show him still trailing behind the Democrat frontrunner but beginning to narrow the gap.
Clinton aides admit they are worried, especially as Mr Sanders fills vast sports arenas and concert venues with his cheering supporters.
Nearly 28,000 people turned out to see him in Los Angeles this week, the largest rally for any candidate and nearly six times the size of the crowd gathered by Mrs Clinton for her New York campaign launch. His rallies are larger even than Barack Obama’s in 2007, when the fresh-faced senator from Illinois was becoming a political phenomenon.
Mr Sanders has none of Mr Obama’s youthful appeal. With his open-necked shirts or anoraks worn over suit and ties, Mr Sanders he is hardly central casting’s idea of an American president. His shock of white hair and big glasses gives him the look of a rumpled grandfather rather than a man intent on what he calls “a political revolution”.
But Mr Sanders’ full-throated support for progressive policies – raising taxes on the rich, clamping down on big banks, hiking the minimum wage – is hitting home.
“We are going to send a message to the billionaire class: you cannot have it all,” Mr Sanders told his supporters, as he promised to reverse a 40-year decline in the fortunes of the middle and working classes.
His backers point out that he was championing Left-wing causes long before Mrs Clinton adopted them as her own.
He supported gay marriage for decades while she came out in favour only in 2013. He called for stricter financial regulation while her husband’s administration was easing the rules for Wall Street. And, crucially for many Democrats, he voted against the Iraq War while she supported it, a decision Mrs Clinton says she now regrets.
Mr Sanders may not ultimately be able to stop the Clinton machine. But his candidacy is proving a rallying point for Democrats tired of years of centrist politics and policies designed not frighten the wealthy.
“I am gung ho for Bernie Sanders,” said Cassie Brehmer, a 26-year-old from New York who was visiting Iowa. “I think he has some great ideas, and he is the only one that is listening and making changes according to what people have to say.”
From his home in Oxfordshire, Mr Sanders’ older brother Larry said he could see a bigger political trend, where disaffected voters, tired of austerity and a political elite, were turning to outsiders. In Britain, it explained Jeremy Corbyn’s shock lead in the Labour Party leadership race and in the US it explained the rise of his brother.
“Neither of them are part of the political establishment and they both represent an anti-austerity programme. They are both picking up on this massive growth in inequality,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.
Or the comparison might be with Donald Trump, the billionaire property developer, who leads the Republican race with a policy-free line in populist politician-bashing. Anything goes, it seems, to prevent the sort of Bush-Clinton contest that would embed America’s two strongest political dynasties.
Mr Sanders campaign is unconventional in many respects. He is refusing to use a super-PAC, a shadow campaign used by both Democrats and Republicans to attack their opponents with unlimited amounts of money.
Instead, he is relying on small donors and a handful of progressive millionaires, including Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield – the eponymous Ben and Jerry of the ice cream brand, which is based in Vermont.
The men behind Cherry Garcia and Phish Food have supported Mr Sanders since his first long-shot race to become mayor of Burlington, a city of 40,000 not far from the Canadian border.
The ice cream duo have donated only about $1,000 each – a tiny sum in an election expected to cost more than $5 billion – and spent $500 of their own money buying ice cream for three campaign events.
“I think he is reinvigorating all those young people that have been totally turned off by the political system, because the candidates have all been groomed and blowdried and schooled in the language of political speak which is essentially obfuscation and happy talk,” said Mr Cohen.
It is all very different from Mrs Clinton’s national headquarters in one of the hippest of New York neighbourhoods. Her operatives are veterans of White House campaigns, adding to her image of a political insider who is out of touch with ordinary people.
Mr Sanders’ campaign office in Iowa, a sleepy rural state known for its butter sculptures and the state fair, is led by Robert Becker, who has spent decades organising grassroots movements against repressive regimes around the world. His Tanzeem political project includes activists who took part in the Tahrir Square protests which drove Hosni Mubarak from power. Some of those Egyptian activists are now helping staff the Iowa office.
The primaries are one thing. The question hanging over Mr Sanders is whether he could convert his appeal to grass-roots liberals into the sort of tectonic shift that could reshape American politics for a generation and win a general election.
“Socialist” remains an ugly word in American politics and many Republicans would relish the chance to face Mr Sanders in next year’s election instead of Mrs Clinton.
His brother, Larry Sanders, dismisses that criticism. “Their opponents don’t talk about their policies, they just say they are extremists and therefore can’t win elections. But policy-by-policy what they are saying is quite popular with the public.”
Whether that is enough to capture the nomination is another matter.
Strong showings early next year in Iowa’s caucus or New Hampshire’s primary could make or break the campaign.
In the meantime, Mrs Clinton is quietly mopping up senior party endorsements delivered by her well-oiled election. On Friday, for example, she won the backing of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
And she is expected to inherit from her husband the support of many millions of African-Americans, a crucial constituency for any democrat trying to win the White House.
So while Mr Sanders has surprised the political pundits with his renegade campaign and high polling numbers, Mrs Clinton remains the frontrunner.
But then that’s what they said when she was challenged by that fresh-faced senator from Illinois in 2007.