Senator Bernie Sanders is building a Presidential campaign that few in media have seen coming. For months media has focused almost exclusively on Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee for president in 2016. Clinton has been trumpeted as the presumptive nominee to such an extent that when networks compare head to head contests between any of the 12 Republican candidates, Clinton is the only Democratic candidate mentioned.
Network media has long decided that Clinton, who announced her presidential candidacy on April 12, 2015, via a YouTube video, would without question be the Democratic nominee. No other presidential contender on the Democratic side has received any comparable coverage.
Certainly that is true of former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who is being all but entirely ignored by media. Former Democratic Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has received a little coverage from the networks. But the real story is Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who, despite having received little coverage from mainstream media of his campaign, is watching his poll numbers in New Hampshire climb.
Consider the new poll from Morning Consult which shows that “ in the state that provided Clinton her biggest boost in 2008, the margin is much closer: Among voters who say they will participate in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary, 44 percent choose Clinton, while 32 percent pick Sanders, who hails from neighboring Vermont.”
So why is Sanders support growing, despite a media—including print, broadcast, cable and internet—that is so Clinton-centric? The answer may be pretty simple. Senator Sanders isn’t building his campaign based on Clinton’s weaknesses. Instead, he is focusing on issues that millions of Americans—many in the Democratic Party—are concerned over.
Clinton is running into even bigger problems than what she faced in 2008 when she was overshadowed by then-Senator Barack Obama. It was just eight years ago when Clinton, who was then also considered the favorite for the White House, was unable to overcome a Democratic candidate who spoke to issues of working across the aisle, was very vocal about ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and wanted to focus on jobs and issues here at home. Certainly, candidate Obama took many stands and made many promises that President Obama has not only broken but has treated as if they were never promised in the first place.
But, back to Clinton—this time around, she is not facing a charismatic, charming orator who can draw crowds by the tens of thousands. Then again, maybe she is.
On the surface, Senator Sanders is a mess. Certainly, he does not possess the “image” of a man who looks presidential. Chronically disheveled, not a strong speaker and a certainly not a media darling, Senator Sanders is however building a grassroots campaign that actually comes form the Democratic grassroots. Too many candidates today pretend to have grassroots support when, in actuality, they are surrounded by massive funding from special interest groups in the forms of super PAC.
In Sander’s case, he is being carried simply by being in touch with Democratic voters on issues that matter to them—issues that are not often discussed in mainstream media.
There are many reasons why the stances Sanders is taking are resonating. Here are three reasons why Democratic voters seem to be drawn toward Sanders over Clinton.
1. Genetically Modified Organisms. Senator Sanders is staunchly against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and strongly favors GMO labeling. His state of Vermont was the first in the nation to have voter approved mandatory GMO labeling—something that has not yet happened because of legal battles launched by GMO companies.
When voters in Vermont approved a GMO labeling bill in 2013, Sanders, who is a registered Independent senator, went on the record stating, “An overwhelming majority of Americans favor GMO labeling but virtually all of the major biotech and food corporations in the country oppose it. . . . Today’s vote is a step forward on an important issue that we are going to continue to work on. The people of Vermont and the people of America have a right to know what’s in the food that they eat.”
Even as Sanders makes the case for GMO labeling, Clinton has been hammered by her relationship with agriculture giant Monsanto. Moreover, Clinton has come under fire for her strong vocal support of GMO crops. Speaking at a 2014 conference in San Diego, Clinton told the crowd, “‘genetically modified’ sounds Frankenstein-ish,” and thus turns people off to GMOs. “Drought resistant sounds really like something you’d want,” she said, encouraging the industry to improve their semantics. “There’s a big gap between the facts and what the perceptions are.”
Granted, there are many people who have no problem with GMO foods or crops. But a large number of activists and a fast growing section of the American electorate, especially in the Democratic party, want more information and greater transparency when it comes to genetically modified foods. On this issue, mainstream media is more in line with Clinton than they are with the grassroots of the party and that gives Sanders a big edge.
2. The Trans-Pacific Partnership. The second issue where Sanders is connecting with the Democratic Party’s grassroots is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Keep in mind, until last week, most mainstream media had said virtually nothing about the highly secretive TPP. Sanders, in contrast, has talked about it often, even speaking at rallies in Washington D.C. where he opposed the TPP and demanded transparency by requesting the text of the trade agreement to be made public (that is still yet to happen). Last week, the TPP was dealt a heavy blow when the U.S. House of Representatives refused to pass the package of bills that would have given President Obama fast-track authority for the TPP. This was a huge victory for a campaign led by labor unions, environmentalists, consumer groups, civil libertarians and other activists.
Shortly after that vote Sanders continued to shine a light on the issue stating, “A major reason for the decline of the American middle class and the increase in wealth and income inequality in the United State is our trade policies – NAFTA, CAFTA and Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China. This agreement would follow in the footsteps of those free trade agreements which have forced American workers to compete against desperate and low-wage workers around the world – including workers in Vietnam where the minimum wage is 56-cents an hour.”
While Sanders was in many ways a lone voice in the Senate against the TPP, Clinton remained silent on the issue for months. In fact, in the build-up to the TPP vote Clinton refused to take a stand. That was until House Democrats voted against President Obama on Friday. Suddenly, Clinton was willing to chime in, saying of the TPP “there are some specifics in there that could and should be changed. So I am hoping that’s what happens now—let’s take the lemons and turn it into lemonade.” But as CNN points out, Clinton actually pushed for the TPP 45 times while while Secretary of State.
3. Campaign finance. Another issue where Bernie Sanders is connecting with the Democratic grassroots is on the issue of campaign finance reform. Sanders said in a radio interview recently, “To my mind, the single most important issue facing our country today is that, as a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, we are allowing billionaires to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates who will represent the wealthy and powerful rather than the needs of ordinary Americans. This is an issue of enormous consequence. I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the study’s finding that the major networks barely covered the issue of money in politics.”
Compare Sanders’ statements and stances on Citizens United v. FEC to that of Clinton. Clinton herself is arguing for campaign finance reform. In a brief interview with the Washington Post, Clinton said she had developed a plan to overhaul the way money is spent in political campaigns. Numerous reports published mid-April indicate Clinton said she wanted to fix the country’s “dysfunctional” campaign finance system, even backing a constitutional amendment if necessary.
At the same time, Clinton’s campaign insists that it will attempt to raise $2.5 billion dollars which, if achieved, would make it the most expensive campaign in history. A campaign that could not possibly be funded by the grassroots but would have to receive funds from massive corporations. The amount is so staggering that many question if there is any way to raise that sum in a legal way. Assuming it is, Clinton’s relationships with Goldman Sachs and major Wall Street firms only solidifies her as a candidate that is not in touch with the average voter.
None of this is to say that Clinton will not be the Democratic nominee. But it is to say that Sanders has clearly tapped into the heart of much of the Democratic Party who believes that there is something very wrong in America—something profoundly damaged in our political system.
Keep your eye on Sanders and how long it might be before he forces the media to pay attention to his message, even if they might prefer a different messenger.