Trailing Bernie: Sanders unbowed after hitting rough patch out west

PrintThe early weeks and months on the campaign trail for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders were relatively easy — thousands of adoring fans chanting his name and cramming into tight spaces to hear him speak. They opened their wallets, too, to fund his White House bid.

But the trail is long and winding, and Sanders has seen how even a division among progressives, who have flocked to him in droves, can cause headaches for a campaign on the rise.

Rough reception

Sanders appeared at the Netroots Nation in Phoenix this past weekend. What was supposed to be a pep rally of sorts for Sanders in front of a hyper-progressive crowd turned sour.

African-American activists took the stage. They wanted Sanders and fellow Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley to discuss the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and how they could advance it. Hillary Clinton skipped the event.

Both candidates stumbled. Those in the movement don’t want to hear about how Sanders marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington D.C., decades ago. Rather, they want to know why African-Americans are dying in American streets at the hands of police. But Sanders missed that point in Phoenix, and his natural, gruff demeanor didn’t help.

“Black lives, of course, matter. I spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights and for dignity,” he told the gathering. “But if you don’t want me to be here, that’s OK. I don’t want to out-scream people.”

To be fair, Sanders has been speaking more about civil rights and equality on the stump. He began to include such issues in his remarks during a swing through Iowa in June, as the chorus grew in the media that he was avoiding it.

And, Sanders has done his best to recover since Netroots Nation.

‘It must stop’

On Tuesday, he expressed outrage when the dashboard video of Sandra Bland’s arrest was released.

Bland died in a Houston jail after being arrested July 10 after a traffic stop for a minor infraction.

The cop in the arrest video gets angry when Bland refuses to put out a cigarette and eventually tells Bland “I will light you up,” after withdrawing a Taser.

Sanders didn’t wait long to react after the video’s release, decrying “outrageous police behavior.”

“This video highlights once again why we need real police reform. People should not die for a minor traffic infraction. This type of police abuse has become an all-too-common occurrence for people of color and it must stop,” Sanders said.

Polls, schmolls

Sanders’ presidential campaign has raised $15 million, so far. OK, really about $13.5 million when you take out the funds he transferred from his Senate campaign account. But still, a respectable amount for a candidate many pundits believed would struggle mightily to connect with voters.

The self-described democratic socialist has spent about $3 million to advance his cause. But as The Huffington Post pointed out this week, he has spent a grand total of zero dollars and zero cents on a favorite of most campaigns — polling.

“If left to his own devices, he would not like to spend a dime on polling. I don’t think, as of this moment, we have convinced him of the merits of doing that,” campaign advisor Tad Devine told The Huffington Post. “I personally would like to, but I haven’t convinced him yet that we should. I’m hopeful I will.”

For a guy who’s been touting the same economic message for decades with little deviation, polling may not be a great investment. On the other hand, perhaps it could have helped Sanders get a better handle on how to work with the Black Lives Movement and expand his message to a wider, national audience.

Next up?

Sanders will continue his recent practice of visiting conservative states this weekend with a rally Sunday in Kenner, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. He attracted thousands of supporters in Arizona and Texas at recent rallies.

—  Vermont Press Bureau

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