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Connecticut News

Sanders Campaign Brings The Bern To Hartford

The Bernie Sanders presidential campaign opened its Connecticut campaign office in Hartford this weekend.

The launch was raucous. Cheering. Applause. 

More than 100 people squeezed into the new office, a renovated warehouse space in downtown Hartford.  

“We know that, that our fight is right and our cause is just. We’ve got some bumps in the road but we’ve got some good days ahead of this campaign,” said Paul Feeney, the director of Sanders’ state campaign.

Feeney repeated the Sanders call for a ‘political revolution.’

“Are you a fighter? Are you ready to go? Are you feeling the bern?”

It’s unusual for Connecticut voters to get serious attention in a Democratic primary. But Gayle Alberda, a political science professor at Drake University, says this is an unusual race.

“Generally speaking by Super Tuesday or shortly thereafter, both parties kind of have an idea of who’s going to be the nominee and this year we’re not nearly as confident as we normally could be by this point in the race,” Alberda said.

In other words, Connecticut is one of the last states to have a primary, and that means by the time the election gets to this state, the candidate’s already been all but decided. Alberda says that the Sanders campaign has been staying competitive against the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. And they’ve been doing that by pulling in new voters. Voters who haven’t been involved in politics, for example, youth.

"Millennials in particular, we know they are low turnout voters and they tend to be more disinterested in politics earlier on and they like what Bernie’s offering,” Alberda said.

It looks like that attention to millennial voters is paying off. Many people at the launch said this was their first time getting involved in a primary election race. People like Sean Thomas, age 28, who says he’ll be voting in the primary for the first time.

“Honestly Bernie just seemed different from other people and he has such a grassroots element to what he’s doing,” Thomas said. “I’ll definitely vote in the primary. I don't know exactly what I’ll do volunteering-wise, but we’ll see.”

Sanders repeatedly leads in the polls with first-time voters. But where Sanders’ campaign has lagged is with people of color. Thomas notes that the crowd for this launch was mostly white. And that’s in the middle of Hartford, a majority-minority city.

“We’re not in West Hartford. This is Hartford-Hartford. That was definitely a curious element to it. And it doesn’t really make sense but Bernie is still not getting across to diverse voters,” Thomas said.

Thomas is a person of color himself -- he’s Indian. He says he likes Bernie Sanders’ history advocating for civil rights, but the candidate’s optics today don’t always match up with that.

“He sometimes comes off as an angry old white man...It doesn’t bug me in that he’s not fighting for everybody’s rights; I think it bugs me that he’s not getting across to those people,” Thomas said.

State Campaign Director Paul Feeney admits the Sanders campaign had a rocky start in the South attracting non-white voters. That’s where Hillary Clinton won with big leads in states like State Carolina and Arkansas. But Feeney also says the Sanders campaign is starting to do better.

“The South is different. It’s not based on color or class or anything else, it’s just kind of a different political atmosphere...We’re seeing Senator Sanders appeal to voters of color throughout the last few contests -- Michigan, other places, the exit polls show that...Latinos are coming out in droves for Senator Sanders,” Feeney said.

Feeney is hoping to ride that wave for a win in Connecticut -- and across the country.

“His message of the need to fix a corrupt economy rigged by campaign finance, that’s something Connecticut and really all the states are familiar with. People understand that the middle class is being destroyed and there’s growing wage inequality and Connecticut’s a perfect example,” Feeney said.

Connecticut voters have until April 21 to register for a party by mail if they want to vote in the primaries. They have until April 25 to register in person. The primary election for both parties is on April 26.