If the former mayor of the People's Republic of Burlington, Vermont can win anywhere in his outsider presidential race, it's in the People's Republic of Johnson County, Iowa.Sanders working the farmers market with @rodsullivan111 county supervisor and former county dem chair pic.twitter.com/tR6rBCd7Oz— John Deeth (@johndeeth) May 30, 2015
There's a lot of interest, at least, as Senator Bernie Sanders packed 250 people INTO the room at the Iowa City Rec Center, with a much larger overflow crowd listening in the lobby, down the stairs, and out onto the sidewalk.
Later, Sanders' call for free college tuition may have topped the applause meter level."Medicare for all single payer health care" may be biggest @BernieSanders applause line yet. But there have been many. #Catnip— John Deeth (@johndeeth) May 30, 2015
Today's drinking game word was "huge," pronounced in Sanders' native Brooklynese as "YOOGE." I'm in detox as I write.
Sanders also told yooge corporations, "If you want to be part of America you have to accept the responsibilities, you cant just take the benefits."
"Don't just accept the world view presented to you on TV every night," Sanders told the crowd near the end of the set speech. As he said it I thought back to the moment I first found Sanders this morning, when he was talking with a TV reporter. The reporter was focused almost entirely on recently unearthed 40-year old essays by Sanders about the sexual politics of the era. Sanders dismissed them as "terrible writing," and kept trying to steer the discussion back to his signature economic issues.
Those issues were a smash with the crowd. His only stumble was on the only foreign policy question from the crowd, about the Israel-Palestine conflict (which was one of the three questions I had prepped for Sanders, except that the TV guy ate all my time). Sanders offered a liberal-mainstream answer: two state solution, the two sides need to seriously negotiate, etc.
"Dodge," the guy behind me reacted. "Totally lame," The crowd seemingly expected a stronger, more pro-Palestinian answer from the senator who had just wrapped his set speech calling for a "political revolution." To repeat: The only time the crowd didn't go wild was when Bernie Sanders wasn't lefty enough. Clearly, at least with in the Democratic Party, there's a paradigm shift underway on this issue. (STILL no hostile responses to the 10,000th tweet.)
Bernie Sanders does not roll with a big posse. He entered the event from the back of the room, through the crowd, and appeared to be traveling with just three partners: longtime Vermont staffer, Phil Fiermonte. newly hired Iowa Director Pete D'Alessandro, and his wife Jane, who spent most of the rally taking photos.
Jane was so low key that, until Bernie introduced her about 2/3 of the way into the speech - his ONLY reference to family or personal background in an all-meat issues speech - I had thought she was a volunteer or media. And it was only when she reached in front of me and politely retrieved her purse and coffee that I realized I had stolen her chair.
Bolkcom was the only legislator on hand. The crowd also included three county supervisors: Mike Carberry, Janelle Rettig (in the overflow crowd) and Rod Sullivan, who handled the introduction and made his endorsement official. Sullivan was one of the earliest Obama backers in 2007.
Past Democratic Party chairs Tom Carsner and Gerene Denning were also on hand, but most of the crowd was fresh faces, young and old, who aren't normally seen at Democratic Party events. The age skew was slightly old, but that seemed more because the University of Iowa is out of session. Grad student group COGS was out in force, in matching shirts, and grabbed two of the questions.
The Sanders event had a classic Iowa caucus feel, wide open and unscripted, full of both substance and local quirks.
Before the rally he worked the crowd at the Iowa City Farmer's Market, where he was greeted and recognized, but not mobbed.Exercise balls are being used as chairs at the #BernieSanders event in Iowa City #Iowa its that crowded #Decision2016 pic.twitter.com/cuf4zzDQss— Zachary Berg (@ZacharyBerg) May 30, 2015
Sanders has set the expectation bar high for other Democratic candidate events in Johnson County, speaking for just over 35 minutes and taking open questions, about eight, for another half hour. It was the kind of event that Hillary Clinton, a prisoner of her own massive lead and with a large staff and a yooge national media scrum in tow, will find difficult if not impossible to hold.A great Iowa City caucus moment: Gary Sanders and @SenSanders "two cranky old Jewish socialists" as Gary says pic.twitter.com/5HADRcKOrK— John Deeth (@johndeeth) May 30, 2015
Perhaps she does not need to. (Interesting note on the power of the politics of gender: before the rally two eight-something girls asked the Sanders button vendor "do you have any with Joni?")
But an event like this, and the ability to have an event like this, is a big opening for someone like Sanders. By coincidence, Martin O'Malley held his announcement rally in Baltimore while Sanders was speaking in Iowa City. O'Malley, too, may be able to do events like this and build a following. But for now, at least in this lefty county, Sanders seems well positioned as the Clinton alternative.
(More thoughts are on the Twitter feed.)