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Bernie Sanders’s Rallies New Hampshire Echo 2016

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A month and a half ago, the Sanders campaign terrified mainstream Democrats all over the country. Was he actually going to be the nominee? Would he torpedo any chances of party unity by drawing out the nomination process while a few other more establishment-friendly candidates were seen as fighting it out without him? For those Democrats, witnessing Biden’s surge has been like listening to a mixtape of old Bill Clinton sax solos.

Cohen, finished with his duties scooping Phish Food and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough—and back to his role as one of Sanders’s four campaign co-chairs—urged one of the Monday crowds to make sure that they pick up bumper stickers, put them on their cars, and get their friends to do the same. They’re “a symbol of the grassroots nature of Bernie’s campaign; it is us who are going to get him elected,” Cohen said, “if we do the hard work.”

Sanders may have dropped from the top, but his detractors seem to forget how far away the primaries are, or that Sanders already has 1 million volunteers signed up, or that his fundraising in the first quarter ($18 million) was far ahead of the rest of the field. He has a massive mailing list that allows his campaign to send out fundraising emails, like the one they sent Thursday ahead of the end-of-the-month deadline, urging people to remember, “every donation made before midnight tomorrow sends an unmistakable message about the strength of our movement.”

Still, Sanders’s biggest applause lines this week came when he addressed head-to-head polling showing him beating Donald Trump, or his own campaign’s polling from this spring showing that he’d do better in the Midwest than other candidates. But Sanders’s political dominance has always had a “is this for real?” sensibility, with even some supporters never quite believing that he could actually win the nomination, let alone the presidency.

On Wednesday afternoon, I called Jeff Weaver, the senator’s longest-serving aide and a senior adviser to his 2020 campaign. “He always runs like he’s behind, and he is, because no matter how well he’s doing in the polls, the powers against him are so impressive and have so many resources, that he’s always behind,” he told me. Weaver was waiting for Sanders to arrive in Reno, Nevada. No charter plane for this one, no gaggle of reporters trailing the candidate. Sanders was back mostly where he started as a senator, showing up like he used to, on a flight into an early primary state, a top staffer killing time by waiting for him near the slot machines.

“What we’re seeing is the vice president had a bump after this announcement,” Weaver told me. “Most of the polling shows that it’s coming down, and what we’re going to see is people taking a hard look at the candidate.” There’s not much mystery about what he meant: Sanders’s team thinks Biden’s promise of resetting America to the pre-Trump days sounds a lot better in concept than in practice on issues like trade and whether to compromise with Republicans.



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