Presidential Hopeful Bernie Sanders To Face Test In New Hampshire

May 29, 2015
Originally published on May 29, 2015 5:20 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Vermont's Bernie Sanders says he wants to start a revolution. First, he has to prove that he's more than a fringe candidate. And one of the first tests for the new presidential hopeful will be right next-door in New Hampshire. The state has long been considered a stronghold for the Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. As NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, the progressive senator from Vermont hopes to channel populist outrage to turn the tide his way.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Vermont and New Hampshire may be next-door neighbors, but a wave of Bernie-mania is not exactly crashing over the border yet. Still, those loyal Sanders fans aren't hard to find.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Senator Sanders, can you sign my yearbook?

BERNIE SANDERS: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Can I have a picture, Senator?

SANDERS: We have an exclusive policy that for people who wear the T-shirts, we do selfies.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah. Will you take this for us?

CHANG: But here on this horse farm in Epping, N.H., Sanders himself admits his celebrity status in Vermont rapidly fades when he drives just a couple hours east.

SANDERS: There are large parts of the state where people have no clue as to who Bernie Sanders is. And for better or worse, they will soon know who Bernie Sanders is. We're going to be all over this state.

CHANG: A political revolution needs people - lots of people. But many supporters like Eric Constantineau, a high school teacher, are drawn to Sanders precisely because he doesn't fit in with most people.

ERIC CONSTANTINEAU: He's been a politician most of his life, but he's tried to stay on the outside of it looking in. And that resonates with me.

CHANG: Do think that to win over America - does Bernie have to become more mainstream?

CONSTANTINEAU: I'd rather he lose miserably with his honor intact than win and do what he has to do to win.

CHANG: And it will take a lot for Sanders to win here. This is the state where Hillary Clinton won in 2008 after suffering a humiliating third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. The presumption is New Hampshire belongs to her. Sanders trails Clinton here by up to 40 points, so Jeanny Aldrich wants Sanders to explain his strategy here. She's a farmer from Chesterfield.

JEANNY ALDRICH: I don't want to be just the party that takes away from Hillary. I want to be able to kick her butt. We need to move ahead. Why can't we ask Hillary to give up her spot and give it to you?

CHANG: Aldrich was in the audience at a town hall meeting in Concord.

SANDERS: I could be wrong, but I suspect she would disagree with you. I could be wrong on that one.

CHANG: Sanders used the opportunity to take a rare shot at Clinton. He criticized her for failing to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which he says will hurt American workers.

SANDERS: I just don't know how you don't have an opinion on this enormously important issue.

CHANG: Sanders fans say he needs to stay on this line of attack. Portray Clinton has a centrist who's too cozy with corporate interest. Here's Aldrich again.

ALDRICH: I have to say that Hillary has maybe been in the game too long at such a high level that she has lost touch with what it is to be us.

CHANG: But for other Democrats in the state, Clinton needs to play the centrist card. Lois Scribner is a former middle school teacher. She supports Clinton, likes Sanders, too, but thinks the socialist label could hurt him in New Hampshire.

LOIS SCRIBNER: I think independent may be more helpful - progressive Democrat or - no, I mean...

CHANG: But that's what Bernie calls himself - a Democratic socialist.

SCRIBNER: Yes.

CHANG: You think that's actually bad marketing.

SCRIBNER: I'm a little afraid it might be at this point.

CHANG: New Hampshire is a more fiscally conservative state than Vermont. And that's why Clinton supporter Nick Alexander scoffs at many of Sanders' proposals like free public universities or government-run health care.

NICK ALEXANDER: They're not realistic. They're things that are great ideas in a lot of cases, and single-payer health care would be wonderful, but it's not something that's going to come to fruition in the short term. So having someone who can lead and takes that more pragmatic approach, I think, is more what we need right now.

CHANG: And that's the reason he says Bernie-mania will not export across the state border. Ailsa Chang, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.