Twice this week I got to witness and, as they say, “feel the Bern” of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign, as its seismic energy sent shockwaves through the political landscape of Idaho and Utah.
In this overwhelmingly red state, more than 7,000 Bernie blues were out in force Monday at Taco Bell Arena for a Sanders rally that was neither brief nor particularly groundbreaking. The senator addressed an adoring crowd and recited a litany of stump speech points about the nation’s inequalities and inadequate policies.
Sanders’ presentation was probably most effective because he came to Idaho. It was live, and it was a chance for fans to see and be seen by the rest of the faithful. The same was true Tuesday evening at the Boise Centre and CenturyLink Arena as the Bernie bandwagon turned assigned areas of the Ada County Democratic caucus into jam band/Club Med balloon-and-bunting encampments — as opposed to the proper, orderly, subdued settings of the Hillary Clinton supporters.
The demographic contrasts of these Democrats attending were undeniable. Though not exclusively, the average Sanders fan might have been half the age of the average Clinton devotee. Much of the energy and enthusiasm lived beneath the “Bernie” caps and inside the “Bernie” T-shirts.
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But I wasn’t the only one wondering whether this vibrant, newfound attraction with Sanders and his approachable political groove will survive if the Bernie revolution does not. Will it transform BernieCrats into Democrats?
Mayor Dave Bieter, who addressed the crowd and identified himself as a Clinton supporter, pleaded with Sanders loyalists to go with Clinton should she prevail — and pledged his support for Bernie if he won the nomination.
Though Sanders’ wins in Utah and Idaho on Tuesday were impressive — Clinton won in Arizona and still has a big delegate lead — I wanted to know whether these youthful Sanders supporters would get more engaged in the broader spectrum of politics. Would they peel off if their guy eventually falls out?
Bryce Humphreys, who described himself as a warehouse worker in Meridian, likes Sanders’ economic policy stance and the fact that he wants to engage both the Palestinians and Israel in peace talks. “Bernie is very clear on what he says, and he means what he says.”
But what if Bernie is not the nominee?
“That’s ... that’s a hard choice between Hillary and Trump. I don’t know who I would vote for.”
Seth and Terace Bennett — Boise brother and sister who support Sanders — don’t much care for Hillary. Seth, 21, who is earning money to go to college, thinks his political activism could evolve because of meeting like-minded people at the caucus. He might consider voting in local, state and congressional races.
But sister Terace, who is just 18 and still in high school, isn’t sure. “It would crush my heart a little bit,” she said, to imagine someone other than Sanders being the Democrat nominee. Eventually, she said she might get involved in other layers and levels of politics.
Ashley Freeman, a 31-year-old veteran and Sanders supporter from Star who works for a nonprofit, says her expanded political involvement depends on the Democratic Party. She enjoyed seeing the big crowd for the caucus. She would participate in more events.
“We need better communication, better organization in the party, more information on the candidates,” she said.
Humphreys paused to contemplate whether “enthusiasm” is enough to get people going nowadays.
“Seems like that’s a fickle thing, enthusiasm,” he said. “I’ve always heard that if you really want to see change in your life, you should vote in local elections because they matter more. But it is a lot harder to get the enthusiasm up to vote for them. I feel like I should go to vote in them, though.”