More than 800 people filled Sheslow Auditorium at Drake University on June 12th for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ Iowa Town Meeting. Audience members ranged from college students to retirees, and there was no mistaking the energy in the room as the Vermont senator took the stage and was greeted by a standing ovation.
To many, Hillary Clinton is the sure Democratic nominee, and many dismiss Sanders’ campaign. But Sanders has been getting packed audiences in Iowa, and he and his supporters are more than willing to highlight that enthusiasm. “A lot of people have called this a fringe campaign,” Sanders said during his speech. “If this is fringe, I want to see mainstream.”
Sanders’ progressive – some say radical – policies offer an alternative to Hillary Clinton, who one audience member called “a warhawk version of Obama.” Robert Greenberg, a 28-year-old civil engineer, went on to express hope in Sanders’ ability to catch up to Clinon. “The media is always trying to sell us on the inevitability of Hillary Clinton,” Greenberg said. “But the thing is right now, Bernie Sanders, who everyone says is crazy, is only 9 points behind the ‘inevitable’ Hillary Clinton.” (Greenberg is probably referring to the Wisconsin straw poll that gave Sanders 41 percent of the vote; Clinton received 49 percent. Other polls show Clinton with a stronger lead).
Pete D’Alessandro, Sanders’ Iowa campaign coordinator, explains that people often show up to events but do not firmly say that they will caucus for a candidate. But D’Alessandro said that Sanders’ campaign is getting solid support.
“We’re getting half a sheet, sometimes more than half a sheet saying, ‘Yes, I’m caucusing for him,’” D’Alessandro said. “It’s not just the size of the crowd, it’s not just the enthusiasm, it’s the fact that they’re actually saying “I’m supporting you,” that I think makes this something that’s happening.”
A centerpiece of Sanders’ platform is a plan to make public universities free for all Americans. Sanders highlighted the need for his “College for All Act” by inviting three college students to address the crowd about the enormous debt they will face upon graduation. “Without any financial aid, I would not be able to go to college and I would be stuck in minimum wage jobs,” said John Ashton, who attends Des Moines Area Community College.
Opponents say the “College for All Act” is an unreasonable idea, but Sanders’ supporters say differently. “We have to make it possible,” D’Allesandro said. “When everybody reaches their potential, everyone else is better off because of it.”
Sanders also gave his standard call to get money out of politics and decrease the income gap in America. “There is something profoundly wrong when 99 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent,” Sanders said.
His beliefs rang true to many audience members. “Everything he says makes sense to me,” said Isobel Osius, a retired research professional. “ I’ve been worried about income inequality for a couple of decades now, and he’s really focused on that.”
Time will tell whether the Bernie Sanders excitement will translate to solid support during caucusing. For now, desire for change is filling rooms and fueling his team. “I think we have set a bar for ourselves, which makes us have to work a little harder, but we’re ok, we got a lot of hard working folks on our team,” D’Alessandro said. “If that bar is there, we’re going to keep trying to reach it. Every time.”
(Read further coverage with our next post: Hillary Brings Campaign Kick-Off To Iowa As Bernie Threat Looms)
by Angela Ufheil