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Sanders Says By Boosting Voter Turnout, Democrats Can 'Transform' Politics

Jesse Costa/WBUR
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to a full room at St. Anselm College Friday, Feb. 7.

Bernie Sanders has been making the pitch to voters this week that he stands the best chance of defeating President Donald Trump in the general election.

But as attacks heat up on the campaign trail, can the Independent Vermont senator unite a Democratic Party that he hasn’t always gotten along with?

Sanders used a speech at Saint Anselm College this morning to go on the offensive against his Democratic rivals. He accused billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who has skipped early-voting states like New Hampshire altogether in this race, of trying to buy the election. And he read from a list of headlines to support his case that Pete Buttigieg is too cozy with the ultra-wealthy, focusing on Buttigieg’s acceptance of campaign donations from billionaires.

Sanders told the crowd at St. Anselm that Democrats have a simple choice: between candidates who are with big money, and one who’s not.

“Which side are you on?” Sanders said. “Are you on the side of a working class of this country which has been battered for the last 45 years? Are you willing to take on the greed and corruption of the billionaire class and the 1 percent? Or will you continue to stand with the big money interests?”

But is casting other leading Democrats as beholden to big money a risk for Sanders? Could it alienate Democrats he’ll need in November if he becomes the nominee?

In a conversation later that day at his Manchester hotel, Sanders said no.

“I think at the end of the day, all Democrats are going to come together to defeat the most dangerous president in modern American history. I know I have pledged to support the winner if it’s not me and I think the other candidates feel the same way.”

But ultimately Sanders’ strategy rests more on voters who might not be considered part of the Democratic Party as it exists today. He tells every crowd in New Hampshire that the way to beat Trump is to bring out people who don’t often vote, in historic numbers. And he says his campaign is the one to do it.

“I think all I can tell you is that in Iowa, where the turnout was not as high as I would like, we increased voter turnout among young people, people under 29, by over 30 percent,” Sanders said in an interview. “That is historic. That was the largest turnout, percentage-wise, of young people in the history of the Iowa Caucus. We do that nationally, that transforms politics in America.”

Sanders is right that young people did come out for him in a big way in Iowa. And he’s also right that overall turnout in Iowa was barely higher than it was in 2016.

The next test of whether Sanders can bring new voters into the party is on Tuesday.

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.

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