NASHUA, New Hampshire—Bernie Sanders talked billionaires, he talked climate change, he talked income inequality, but he also talked about something he couldn’t have dreamed he would be bragging about months ago: his standing in the polls.
With voting set to begin in just seven weeks, the senator from Vermont on Monday told several dozen students and faculty at Nashua Community College that he has a real shot against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, and that recent surveys prove it.
“We started with no money, no political organization. We started at 3, 4, 5 percent in the polls,” Sanders said. “I just came back from Iowa, which will hold the first caucus in the country. We’re in single digits behind Secretary Clinton. We can win Iowa, and I think we have a good chance to do that. Last poll out of here in New Hampshire had us in the lead. I think we stand a good chance to win here in New Hampshire. And if we can win in Iowa, and if can win in New Hampshire, we have a real path toward victory, to pulling off one of the major political upsets in the history of our country.”
Sanders acknowledged the difficulties of running against one of the most famous people in the world, and one who he said had “many years of strong achievements.” But he told students that if they and other groups with similarly low voting rates got involved in politics, they could force elected officials to pay attention to their priorities.
Those priorities, as Sanders described them, include making college more affordable, implementing single-payer health care, combatting climate change by ending reliance on fossil fuels and, key to it all, reversing the “disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision” that made it easier for rich donors and corporations to influence elections.
He warned his audience that the elections will turn on how many young people show up at the polls. “I want you to tell your friends who are not voting that that’s not very sensible,” he said. “People have fought and died to preserve American democracy. We owe it to them to seriously engage in the important issues facing our country.”
Sanders’s “path” to victory relies on momentum swinging his way in the subsequent voting states, many of which already have strong Clinton organizations and where she enjoys both party establishment support and healthy polling leads. In South Carolina, where Democrats will vote 18 days after the New Hampshire primary next year, Clinton is averaging a 48-point lead.
Also of comfort to Clinton’s camp: The typical Sanders supporter, while favoring him in the primary, seems ready to back Clinton should she defeat him.
Alicia Finney, a 25-year-old Nashua Community College student in the science program, said she doesn’t trust Clinton because of her shifting positions over the years. Still, that distaste doesn’t go so far as to make her cross over and support a Republican a year from now. “If it came down to Hillary being our party’s nominee, I think I would vote for her because I think she’s better than the alternative,” Finney said.
Patricia Ansdell, a 74-year-old retired physician, said she, too, would be a solid Clinton vote in November. “I’m not opposed to Hillary. But I believe that Bernie espouses my views more so than she does,” Ansdell said. “But I will certainly vote for her if he doesn’t get the nomination.”
Sanders followed his Nashua Community College appearance with a visit to his new field office in Salem, and then went to a town-hall-style meeting Monday evening in Hollis.
He, Clinton, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley are scheduled to participate in a nationally televised debate from New Hampshire on Saturday.