Bernie Sanders is firmly the front-runner in the race to become the Democratic challenger to Republican President Donald Trump, fresh from a victory this week in the second state-by-state contest. His support is fervent but is his party, let alone the country, ready to embrace such an unusual candidate?
Bernie Sanders likes to call his presidential campaign a revolution, but these days it feels more like a touring rock concert.
The Vermont senator may seem like an unlikely front-man for bands like Vampire Weekend and The Strokes, but both have served as his warm-up acts, playing at recent campaign rallies.
But the thousands of fans in packed arenas reserve their loudest cheers for the scruffy-haired 78-year-old candidate with a clipped Brooklyn accent.
After nearly a year marathon of rallies, meetings, debates and ground-laying, the Sanders campaign is now entering a sprint of near-nonstop activity that will carry it through dozens of states across the country – an impressive test of endurance for a man who just months ago was hospitalised for a heart attack.
“Bernie Sanders is the only candidate that has given me the courage to believe that we cannot only demand bold, radical change, but that it’s actually very attainable,” said Aletha Shapiro, who travelled to New Hampshire from Long Island, New York, to help the Sanders campaign.
“If the people stick together, we can actually put power back in the hands of the people.”
The end result of all this effort was a split decision in Iowa, as former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg claimed the most delegates to the Democratic National Convention even though Sanders won a few thousand more votes.
In New Hampshire, Sanders finished narrowly ahead of Buttigieg again, with the two tied in the state’s delegate count.
That didn’t stop Sanders from claiming victory both in Iowa and New Hampshire on Tuesday night, however, and looking ahead to a showdown with Trump in November.
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“The reason we won tonight in New Hampshire, we won last week in Iowa, is because of the hard work of so many volunteers,” he said. “Let me say tonight that this victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump.”
The crowd, packed into a college gymnasium, responded with deafening applause, as though the volume of their cheers could will their beloved candidate to more victories in the days ahead.
“It was electric,” said Scott Sandvik, a music teacher from Boston. “I really think it was a release of tension after a nail-biter of an election.”
If the Sanders “revolution” does take hold – an outsider campaign pitted as much against the Democratic Party’s establishment as it is the incumbent president – New Hampshire could very well be seen as where it all began.
But the campaign still has a long road ahead.
Another shot at the prize
Four years ago, Sanders also followed a tight result in Iowa with a victory in New Hampshire. That contest was actually more decisive – a 20-point win over Hillary Clinton, who was considered the prohibitive favourite entering the race.
Sanders’ 2016 New Hampshire triumph, however, was a springboard into an empty pool.
He followed his win in the overwhelmingly white New England state with a narrow loss in Nevada and a drubbing in South Carolina, where the Democratic voting population is majority black. Although there were a few bright spots after that – victories in Michigan and Wisconsin – Clinton spent the next few months pulling away from Sanders in the nomination race.
Now Sanders is back, hoping history doesn’t repeat itself. Facing a more crowded field, he appears to be in a much better position, as the nomination fight becomes a state-by-state slog on a battleground that stretches the breadth of the nation.
There is no Clinton machine waiting to do battle against the Sanders insurgency this time around. Instead, the Vermont senator heads out of New Hampshire along with a ragtag mix of candidates all scrambling for a foothold.
Joe Biden, the apparent front-runner through much of 2019, is grievously wounded by poor showings in the first two contests. Elizabeth Warren, the other candidate appealing to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, has finished behind Sanders twice now and shows no signs gaining any ground.
Meanwhile, the continued presence of Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar among the moderates of the party ensures middle-of-the road and establishment Democrats will remain divided.
Buttigieg has money, but a thin resume and doubts about his appeal to the more diverse rank-and-file of the Democratic Party. Klobuchar is counting on media coverage of her late surge in New Hampshire to make up for depleted campaign coffers and a virtually non-existent national organisation.