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How Does Sen. Bernie Sanders' National Focus Play In Vermont?

Sen. Bernie Sanders at his campaign kickoff event in Brooklyn on March 2, 2019.
Sen. Bernie Sanders at his campaign kickoff event in Brooklyn on March 2, 2019.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders held his first campaign rally to launch his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential primary in his home city of Brooklyn, New York. In his speech, he also leaned into his Brooklyn roots. So, how does this play to Vermonters?

Linda Fowler, a longtime political expert and professor of government at Dartmouth College said Sanders’ decision to hold the rally in Brooklyn (as opposed to an icy day in Vermont) paid off on two counts: It likely ensured more media coverage and a larger audience.

However, she said, it could bring up valid concerns for people who live in the Green Mountain State: 

“A national campaign takes you away from your home state, it interferes with time you can spend in Washington attending to the interests of your state," Fowler said. "And so there’s always a risk for anybody who [runs for national office]."

And Fowler said it could be especially problematic this time around because the 2020 presidential campaign has begun so early.

“[Vermonters] will be asking, ‘What are we giving up by having one of our two senators be a national candidate and be absent?” Fowler said.

At the kickoff rally in Brooklyn earlier this month, Sanders was backed on stage by a diverse audience holding Bernie signs. According to Fowler, more important than the optics of "the rainbow tapestry of faces in the audience" was Sanders' reminder of his track record when it comes to social justice.

"He was marching, and he was connected to a very powerful social movement of the 1960s," Fowler said. "That he's not a Johnny-come-lately to progressive causes."

Fowler noted though that Sanders will contend with a much more diverse group of candidates in this Democratic primary than he did in 2016, when he faced off with Hillary Clinton.

She said while Sanders has had a hot start to his presidential bid — raising roughly $10 million from more than 350,000 donors in the first week of his campaign — former Vice President Joe Biden could present a challenge if he decides to run. Fowler said Biden appeals to the same white working-class Democratic voters in the Midwest that support Sanders.

Copyright 2019 Vermont Public Radio

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