On the Road

On the Road: The Contender

‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.’ Mahatma Gandhi

SILVER SPRING, MD. — The Beltway pundits in Washington dismissed Bernie Sanders early on. He wasn’t a serious candidate.  He had no chance of winning anywhere. He couldn’t raise the kind of money needed to wage a real campaign.  He called himself a democratic socialist. His crowds were small. It was practically a cinch that organized labor would pass over his lifetime fighting for working families and hand an early endorsement to prohibitive front-runner Hillary Clinton. Bernie was barely a blip in the polls.

A lot has changed since the day in late April when the junior senator from Vermont formally filed the paperwork to officially launch his campaign.  He talked about some of what’s happened in the span of three short months after meeting here in suburban Washington, D.C., on Wednesday with leaders of the AFL-CIO.

After a meeting with labor leaders, with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka seated at his side, Sanders held a news conference in which he cited his legislative record on labor issues and also discussed his rising poll numbers, including matchups that show him outperforming or tying three of the most prominent Republicans vying for their party’s presidential nomination.

On his labor record, Sanders looked back over his years in Congress. “I have been in the House and Senate for 25 years. I am not aware that there is anybody in the House and Senate who has a stronger voting record for the AFL-CIO during that period — 98 percent,” Sanders said. “As I recall,” he half joked, “I was right on the other 2 percent.”

He stressed his opposition to job-killing trade deals starting with the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement and including opposition to this year’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, an 11-nation deal with Pacific Rim nations that corporations want and organized labor staunchly opposes. With former Secretary of State Clinton’s reluctance to take a clear stand on the Pacific trade deal, the affiliation of unions was expected to withhold an endorsement at least for now.

If it does eventually make an endorsement, one factor the executive council will likely consider is whether a candidate is electable.

At the news conference, Sanders cited a recent poll for CNN which showed him doing well in head-to-head matchups with several Republican candidates. The survey pairing Sanders and leading Republicans found Bernie winning by a landslide with a 20-point margin over Donald Trump. Sanders also bettered Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and in a statistical tie with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“Can Bernie Sanders win? Well, we know that CNN is an infallible organization, don’t we? So they have told us that yes, I can win,” he said.

Those numbers and other surveys show Sanders gaining ground on Clinton nationally and in Iowa and New Hampshire, the states which begin the nominating process next winter.

So Sanders is doing well in the polls. Labor apparently will hold off on an early endorsement for Mrs. Clinton.  Sanders’ raised some $15 million, an impressive total in the first report to the Federal Election Commission since beginning his campaign. And he has been drawing record crowds from 10,000 in Madison, Wisconsin, to a record so-far 11,300 in Phoenix, to an impressive 4,500 last Sunday in a convention center near New Orleans.

After the AFL-CIO meeting on Wednesday, Sanders drove back to Washington to speak to a meeting of about 20 volunteers.  That understates the meetings’ importance. The one house party Bernie attended was part of an amazing online organizing effort. Altogether, more than 3,722 similar meetings took place all over the United States. An incredible 106,542 people participated and heard Bernie and others speak.

“We’re part of a historic moment but our job is to build a historic movement,” Larry Cohen, the past president of the Communication Workers of America told the volunteers gathered in all 50 states.

The host at the apartment in southwest Washington was Manisha Sharma. She gave Bernie a poster. It featured a picture of Mahatma Gandhi, who led India’s non-violent overthrow of the British in India.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,” she quoted Gandhi. “That’s what you’ll do,” she told Bernie.