Bernie Sanders stirs up the crowd in visit to Keene, N.H.

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., drew a large crowd in Keene, N.H., on Saturday during a town hall meeting. Photo by Sam Heller/VTDigger
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., drew a large crowd in Keene, N.H., on Saturday during a town hall meeting. Photo by Sam Heller/VTDigger

KEENE, N.H. — Bernie Sanders addressed a crowd of supporters that filled the 46,000-square-foot Keene Recreation Center and spilled out onto the lawn during a political rally in Keene, New Hampshire, on Saturday.

“Let me tell you a secret,” said Sanders, as he gripped the podium and leaned in close to the microphone, “We’re going to win New Hampshire.”

The rally consisted of an hour-long speech during which Sanders touched on a number of issues central to his campaign, a question-and-answer session with the audience and with the media.

During the speech, Sanders made a number of bold campaign promises centered around increased public spending including free public college education, reduced interest rates on student loans, accessible and affordable health care and Social Security with extended benefits “for decades.”

Sanders also took a stand against recent Republican budget cuts, which he argued were harming children and the elderly.

“This is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world,” Sanders said, “and our seniors should not have to decide between food and medicine.”

According to several major media outlets, Sanders’ candidacy is jeopardized by the senator’s lack of charisma. “He’s not charismatic,” opined Peter Beinart in a column for The Atlantic. The Wall Street Journal said that Sanders “… typically reels off dry statistics” during his stump speeches. The National Journal described a May 10 political rally as “… vintage Sanders: brimming with umbrage and entirely lacking in charisma.”

Yet Sanders’ oratory and signature hand gestures – “with the tips of his fingers close together, as if grasping a jelly bean,” according to Time’s Sam Frizell – elicited emotional responses throughout the speech.

Several participants vocalized their agreement with key points, some under their breath and some out loud. Sanders had to pause several times to wait for spontaneous standing ovations to end.

During the question portion of the rally, most participants prefaced their questions with a statement establishing a personal connection to Sanders. “I’ve been a supporter for three years,” said one man. “I actually moved to Vermont for you,” said another woman, laughing. “You’re my senator.”

“He waved at me. I almost cried,” joked 20-year-old Hinesburg resident Mary Washburn, who saw Sanders at the Strolling of the Heifers parade in Brattleboro earlier that day.

People gather for the Strolling of the Heifers on Saturday in Brattleboro. Photo by Sam Heller/VTDigger
People gather for the Strolling of the Heifers on Saturday in Brattleboro. Photo by Sam Heller/VTDigger

This outpouring of support is reflective of Sanders’ popularity in Vermont, where a 2011 Public Policy Polling report had him at a 67 percent approval rating – making him the third most popular U.S. senator within his home state.

Outside of Vermont, however, Sanders’ clout decreases proportionally with distance. In New Hampshire, Sanders trails Hillary Clinton by only 28.5 percentage points, according to polling aggregator RealClearPolitics (RCP). In South Carolina, he’s down by 43 points. In Iowa, that number is closer to 50.

Part of the problem, Sanders said during the rally, is that the mainstream media tends to either ignore him or write him off as a fringe candidate – focusing on his eccentricities while skirting around his positions on serious issues such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the Citizens United ruling.

“What we have got to do – and the role that you have got to play – is to demand that local and national media start focusing on the real issues. You asked me, how do we defeat this idea that I am a, quote-unquote, ‘fringe’ candidate. You’re doing that here today,” Sanders said.

Sanders’ popularity has been consistently on the rise even before he officially declared his candidacy May 26. Fringe candidate or not, he’s now the second-most popular choice for Democratic nominee in the country after overtaking Vice President Joe Biden last week, according to the RCP database.

Clinton, up by 47.5 points nationally, is still by far the favorite to win the Democratic nomination according to RCP. However, she came out only eight points ahead of Sanders in a recent Wisconsin straw poll.

John Nichols of The Nation characterized the close polls as “another sign of unexpected and significant support” for Sanders. During the rally, however, Sanders said that he had no intention of coming in second.

“My message today is ‘Do not think small, think large,’” he said.

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  • Ross Laffan

    Charisma gets you a president who calls ketchup a vegetable. Charisma gets you a president who signs a trade agreement that ships our jobs out of the country, and then, in 2014, hocks his book on how to create jobs.

    • Amen, could not have said it better.

      The media is still obsessed with politicians who fit the bill for a TV audience. Maybe just maybe and this is blowing their minds people are capable of looking deeper now.

  • Fred Moss

    When will Bernie layout out his plan to pay for all the free “stuff” he would give away as POTUS.

    He is quick to attack private citizens who made a fortune, and secretly plans to take it as POTUS. But he can’t be honest, with those facts. The media and his campaign paint him as refreshing, yet he has no facts to back up his plans.

    • Fred Woogmaster

      His comments, Mr. Moss, are much more focused on a system that empowers such a small segment of society and marginalizes the vast majority.

      One of the things I like so much about Bernie Sanders is his commitment to the pillars of liberty, justice and equality. With that in mind, I would trust how he would pay for “all the free stuff”.

      • Fred Moss

        A small segment; like George Soros????

        Why do we never hear Bernie attack ultra wealthy liberals??

        Your trust is misplaced.

    • Ernie Hotchkiss

      How to pay for the “free stuff”? It’s very simple Fred. Just cut back on the severely wasteful and ineffective spending that goes to the biggest welfare recipient in the country, the military industrial complex, and end the policy of endless wars started by chicken hawks and former CEOs of Haliburton. That would be a start. Ending the tax shelters in the Cayman Islands and Europe and instituting a windfall profits tax on Wall St, would do a lot too. How is it that Germany and many other countries in Europe can offer free college education, but so called “the greatest country on earth” can’t?

  • David Bresett

    Private citizens that are the GOP “so called job creators” is a myth, that republicans will have to soon realize, is the biggest hoax of all time. Tax cuts to the rich have to stop and reversed, to bring us back from the brink , that the horrible GOP has brought us to with their ignorance or has it been for a purpose of turning us into slaves for the rich…Vote for Bernie or watch this country burn!!!

  • Glenn Thompson

    The country will burn if we don’t elect Sanders as president????? Good Grief!!!!

    • Craig Powers

      I agree, Glenn.

  • Mike Ferzoco

    Fred Moss- “Giving away” what? What a Fox talking point. Every time he speaks, he lays out EXACTLY how he will help America. Bernie for President. Tell me again why the wealthy should be allowed to dodge taxes? (I don’t hate rich people, they should pay their fair share.)

    • Glenn Thompson

      Mike Ferzoco!

      “Every time he speaks, he lays out EXACTLY how he will help America. Bernie for President.”

      Not really!!!!

      Big difference between laying out a plan in general terms as opposed to laying out the specifics on how he plans to accomplish his goals? I read through his ‘ideas’ twice in his presidential announcement speech. Most will be impossible to achieve and Utopian in nature! Didn’t you learn from Shumlin’s Single Payer fiasco???? The last thing we need is another so-called leader who believes the world can be saved through ‘Social Experimentation’!