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761Burlington (VT) Free Press 11/15/13: Sanders wants progressive 2016 presence

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  • Rick Kissell
    Nov 18 9:49 PM
      Sanders wants progressive 2016 presence

      Americans are willing to listen to a populist message like his, senator says

      by Sam Hemingway
      Free Press staff writer

      It’s not every day a U.S. senator drops by the high school in Philadelphia, Miss., (population 7,477) to speak to students.

      But that’s what Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., did on Oct. 17, kicking off a three-day speaking tour of four Southern states, a trip that has since stirred talk he might run for president in 2016.

      “They enjoyed the fact he didn’t just stand and lecture them,” Kellie Penson, a school official, said of the students who heard Sanders speak. “He actually interacted with them and let them ask questions. He didn’t just talk down to them.”

      Sanders had a reason for making Philadephia, Miss., the first stop on his visit to the South, he said in an interview this week.

      The town made headlines in 1964 when members of the Ku Klux Klan killed three civil rights workers. In 1980, Ronald Reagan chose to make the town the site of his first campaign appearance after winning the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.

      “That’s the reason why I wanted to go there,” Sanders said Friday, referring to Reagan’s visit.

      Reagan went on to win Mississippi by 1 percent and capture the White House, defeating President Jimmy Carter.

      Sanders, now 72, has no illusions about calling 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. home four years from now.

      The cost of a national campaign, the constant travel and the vitriol he’d surely encounter on the campaign trail are enough to discourage anyone from seeking the presidency, he said.

      “There are people in this world who, ever since they were 12 years of age, they decided they wanted to be president of the United States,” Sanders said.

      “That is honestly not me,” he continued. “Anyone who really, really wants to be president is slightly crazy because this is an unbelievably difficult job given the crises that this country faces today.”

      Still, Sanders says he is willing to consider making a run if no one else with progressive views similar to his ends up taking the plunge.
      It is essential, he said, to have someone in the 2016 presidential campaign who is willing to take on Wall Street, address the “collapse” of the middle class, tackle the spread of poverty and fiercely oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

      Also, addressing global warming needs to be a top priority, not an afterthought, Sanders said.
      “Under normal times, it’s fine, you have a moderate Democrat running, a moderate Republican running,” Sanders said. “These are not normal times. The United States right now is in the middle of a severe crisis and you have to call it what it is.”

      The pros and cons

      Sanders said if he does run, he would “probably” do so as an independent. It’s a label that has been of value to him in his statewide races but could become a complication as a presidential hopeful.

      “The disadvantages of being an independent are you not going to get in these big debates that you have on television,” he said. “But I’m very proud to be an independent.”

      As an independent, Sanders would be in much the same position as consumer advocate Ralph Nader was during his third-party presidential candidacies.

      He would have to go through the laborious process of getting his name on the general election ballot in 50 states.

      Sanders might also have to face the prospect of being perceived a spoiler if the 2016 presidential race got close in its late stages and he drew enough votes from the Democratic nominee to cause the Republican to win.

      Money would be another challenge, he said.

      “One of the difficulties for someone like me running is ... I’m not going to get any money from Wall Street or corporate America,” Sanders said. “We have been successful, but it’s one thing to talk about raising money for a Senate campaign in a small state, another thing running for president of the United States.”

      Sanders, however, would begin with an already established nationwide network of 700,000 people who have contributed to his Senate campaigns or otherwise supported him.

      Sanders said he hears from supporters almost daily who are telling him to run. He said his trip to the South, and the feedback from supporters around the country, provide evidence that Americans are willing to listen to a populist message like his.

      Two days ago, he said, he sent a targeted email out to 51,000 people outlining what he sees as the nation’s economic crisis and income disparity. The email ended with a series of questions asking the recipient what needed to be done.

      Sanders said his his staff has determined that half of the recipients have opened and presumably read the email and 4,000 have already written him responses.
      “I think in this country now there is much deeper concern and discontent than both the political establishment and the media establishment understand,” he said. “This just reinforces that. The responses are just off the charts.”

      The Warren factor

      In the last week, the name of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has been floated by some progressive Democrats as an ideal prospect to seek the party’s nomination against the expected candidacy of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

      Sanders said he would be comfortable with a Warren presidential bid.

      “I like Elizabeth Warren very much,” he said. “Her beauty is that she is very smart. She speaks English. She can explain economics in a way that everybody can understand.”

      Roger Hickey, co-director of the progressive group Campaign for America’s Future, said he isn’t focusing on one ideal candidate.
      But he’d like to see someone run who has the kind of economic program that Sanders and Warren have articulated. Hickey said he was speaking for himself, not his organization.

      “There’s a number of people who could do this, could really spur a debate, and like this unknown guy Barack Obama, could even give Hillary a run for her money,” Hickey said.

      Neil Sroka, communications director for the Vermont-based Democracy for America group founded by former Gov. Howard Dean, said he’s heard more talk about a Warren presidential bid than one for Sanders, but either one would be welcome.

      “Progressives … want someone running in the Democratic Party whose going to take economic inequality head on,” Sroka said. “If that’s Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or Sherrod Brown, we’re fortunate to have a number of people in the Senate who are standing up and being crusaders.”

      Nicole Guardino of Gannett’s Washington bureau contributed to this report.