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Bernie Sanders played well in Pittsburgh last week, but will it translate into votes?

Despite his political positions, he can’t help being a 74-year-old white senator from Vermont

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I have to admit it: I kind of “Feel the Bern.”

Politically, I see where he’s coming from and agree with a lot of it. But I would say I’m “berning” more like a Bic lighter than a raging brush fire. In the early days of his campaign, I talked to a lot of friends who were “berning” like they were covered in gasoline and hit with a match. But I resisted, probably for the worst reason that someone could resist: I didn’t think he could win.

I know electability isn’t the only thing I should be looking at when deciding on a candidate. I was behind Barack Obama long before he became the frontrunner. Electability isn’t the only factor, but it’s pretty important to me, especially this year. 

Donald Trump is a misogynistic, racist freight train, packed full of misogynistic, racist voters, barreling toward the Republican nomination. Everyone keeps telling me he can’t win despite the fact that he keeps winning. I’d rather see George W. Bush, with the ghost of Richard Nixon as his running mate, get the nomination than Trump. Electability this year is a big deal.

Bernie Sanders greets supporters in Pittsburgh on March 28 - PHOTO BY RENEE ROSENSTEEL
  • Photo by Renee Rosensteel
  • Bernie Sanders greets supporters in Pittsburgh on March 28

But as Sanders has been winning and making more of a splash, I’ve been listening more and paying closer attention to his campaign. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether or not he actually could win. Sanders was in town last week and brought thousands of supporters Downtown to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Some attendees brought signs and there were T-shirts for sale outside. It looked like a grassroots campaign rally, and his supporters were energized.

That is one of the perks of being the alternative (don’t say fringe) candidate: Your people show up and make it known they’re there. In that way, he’s sort of like Trump, except Sanders’ supporters don’t clock you in the face for speaking against their candidate, or for being gay, or for being black, or for thinking you’re entitled to question the hateful diarrhea spilling from their candidate’s mouth.

But it’s one thing to draw your supporters to a big, fun campaign rally; it’s another to convince them to abandon their time-honored tradition of not voting. Voter apathy in the United States has always been embarrassingly prevalent. Until 2008, the left (especially the young left) always had the reputation of not showing up to support its candidate. That changed with Obama.

Sanders has been working since last year to build a grassroots infrastructure in key states to bring out the vote. And there is evidence that his message is resonating with a lot of people. Unfortunately for Sanders, it’s not registering with everybody. Sanders has not been as popular as Clinton with African-American voters. There’s some data to show he’s in a better position than he was a month ago, but Clinton’s historical support from black voters is pretty entrenched.

He says a lot of the right things on issues like violence against African Americans by police, and voter-identification laws. But despite his political positions, he can’t help being a 74-year-old white senator from Vermont. Hell, for that reason, I’m surprised sometimes that he plays so well with young, white voters.

I’m with Sanders on a lot of issues, and his presence in the race is also forcing Clinton to prove how progressive and liberal she is. I don’t dislike Hillary Clinton, and without other options, I would have had no trouble voting for her in 2008. For most of this election cycle, in fact, I’ve been pretty sure I would support her. I agree with a lot of her positions, of course, and, as I’ve stated, I think she has a greater electability.

But electability isn’t a trait you own forever. I’m starting to realize that, and I think a lot of Democrats are starting to realize that, too. More and more are listening to Sanders’ message and they are starting to reassess his chances of winning, especially against a polarizing candidate like Trump. But even that might not be a lock. We’ve all heard the predictions that establishment and moderate Republicans would support Clinton over Trump. But I’d be willing to bet that Mitt Romney would rather shave that righteous head of hair of his than vote for and support a — gasp! — socialist. 

Bernie Sanders has made an incredible run so far in this campaign, and Pennsylvania has a whole lot of delegates at stake in its April 26 primary. The Clintons have always been popular in this state. But, if Sanders can translate some of that support from his rally last week into actual voters, he might stand a chance. If not, a final “Bernout” is likely right around the corner.


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