- Matthew Thorsen
- Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters in Essex Junction.
Bernie Sanders will not go quietly into the night.
That much, if not a whole lot more, was clear Tuesday evening as the Democratic presidential candidate took the stage in Essex to greet 4,000 of his most loyal supporters.
"Tonight, you're going to see a lot of election results come in. Let me remind you what the media often forgets about: This is not a general election. It's not winner-take-all," he told the cheering crowd of supporters at the Champlain Valley Exposition. "By the end of tonight, we are going to win many hundreds of delegates."
By then, at 7:30 p.m., just three of the 11 states voting on Super Tuesday had been called: Georgia and Virginia for Clinton and Vermont for Sanders. Within the next few hours, he would lose several more: Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas — and, in an especially painful blow, his neighboring state of Massachusetts.
But Sanders wanted to make one thing clear: He was not about to bow to pressure from rival Hillary Clinton, nor from her allies in the Democratic establishment; he was planning to take his insurgent campaign to the Democratic National Convention.
"At the end of tonight, 15 states will have voted. Thirty-five states remain," he said. "And let me assure you that we are going to take our fight — for economic justice, for social justice, for environmental sanity, for a world of peace — to every one of those states."
By the time Seven Days went to press Tuesday night, three bright spots had emerged for Sanders: He had prevailed in Colorado, Minnesota and Oklahoma.
In Vermont, Sanders appeared on track for a blowout — a result that clearly pleased a man who, 45 years ago, barely made it into the single digits in his first statewide race.
"It is good to be home," he told his audience, his voice cracking from emotion — or, perhaps, exhaustion. "I have been all over this country, but the truth is, it is great ... to come home to see all my friends."
Sanders had no shortage of friends to welcome him home. Local musicians Kat Wright, Brett Hughes, Dwight Ritcher and Nicole Nelson joined the slightly more famous Ben Folds to serenade the audience, and, after Sanders spoke, performed the obligatory encore of "This Land Is Your Land." The senator, as always, swayed to the music and mouthed some of the words.
Democratic gubernatorial candidates Matt Dunne and Sue Minter served as warm-up acts — and did their best to latch on to Sanders' coattails. And in a nod to the many Vermonters who labored in the shadows for years to make Sanders what he has become, longtime state director Phil Fiermonte was given the honor of introducing his boss.
"Tonight it gives me a great deal of pleasure to introduce to you the next president of the United States," Fiermonte said.
The audience was packed with true believers, such as Wendy Chaffee, an Essex speech pathologist who brought her three kids — all decked out in Sanders T-shirts — to witness what she called "a historical event."
"It's not just that he's the hometown candidate; I am the middle class," she said. "It really is time for a revolution. The fact that there's this 1 percent and the rest of us — it's just not right. It's not what the U.S. was built on."
Sprinkled in among the flannel shirts and fleece jackets were some more unusual sights: 9-year-old Angus O'Neil-Dunne, dressed as Sanders in a tie, blazer, spectacles and an unruly wig of white hair. And there was Sean Reen, who staged a lone protest against Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) for endorsing Clinton over Sanders — and pledging his superdelegate vote to the former secretary of state. Reen held a handwritten sign over his head that read: "Pat Leahy: Why aren't you here?"
"His job is to represent the people of Vermont, not the Democratic Party," the Burlington brewer said.
Like many others in the crowd, Crystal Drew, a babysitter from Plattsburgh, N.Y., agreed wholeheartedly with Sanders' pledge to continue fighting.
"He has one hell of a chance, and we're not done yet," she said. "As long as millennials get out and actually do their due diligence, we've got this in the bag."
No doubt Sanders has succeeded in inspiring a generation of young believers, but Tuesday's results reinforced at least two vulnerabilities he's yet to overcome: Southern voters haven't joined his political revolution, nor have African American voters.
Early results showed him getting clobbered — by 2-to-1 and sometimes 3-to-1 margins — below the Mason-Dixon Line. Black voters sided 90 to 10 percent against him in Arkansas and 92 to 6 percent against him in Alabama, according to exit polls. The one southern state where he prevailed, Oklahoma, was whiter than the rest.
Sanders' campaign has recognized these weaknesses for some time — hence its focus on states such as Minnesota and Colorado — but it's unclear whether they understood the magnitude of the problem.
Interviewed last Friday at an election-eve rally in Orangeburg, S.C., campaign manager Jeff Weaver expressed confidence that Sanders would prevail in the Palmetto State.
"You've gotta beat the polls — and I think we will," Weaver said as he waited for his boss to finish shaking hands and snapping selfies. "You know, I think that there's more support out there than the polls are picking up."
There were already clear signs that Sanders wouldn't fare well in South Carolina. Only a couple hundred people had turned out to see the senator at Claflin University's Tullis Arena, leaving a sea of empty red and yellow bleacher seats on either side of him. It was a far cry from the mega-rallies he'd held in the northern, liberal and comparatively white metropolises of Seattle, Madison and Boston.
All around Orangeburg — a city of 67,000, two-thirds of the way from Charleston to Columbia — older African American voters expressed a distinct preference for Clinton, many expressing nostalgia for former president Bill Clinton's administration.
"I think she would do a good job because her husband was president," said seamstress Arleather Hampton, as she sewed a black gown in a back room at Final Touch Bridal. "He could give her some support."
Up the street, at the Right Touch Barber Shop, Ed Rivers said he thought Clinton would do the most to arrest the growing cost of health insurance and higher education.
"She's got a lot of the values that Bill had," Rivers said as he applied the clippers to one of a half dozen customers looking for a trim. "Really, when Bill was in office, we had the best economy that we ever had in a long time, until Obama came into office. I know she gonna instill those same values if she gets into office."
The only signs of Sanders support in town came from Orangeburg's two historically black colleges: Claflin and South Carolina State University, where several students expressed a preference for Sanders. Asia Folk, a history major from St. George, S.C., said she found Clinton to be the more experienced candidate, but she felt drawn to Sanders nonetheless — in part due to his participation in the civil rights movement.
"I just like his sincerity," she said. "I'm just really interested in Bernie, for some reason."
But by Saturday night, it was clear that Weaver's prediction — that Sanders would beat the polls — would not come to pass.
Public opinion aggregators pegged Clinton's South Carolina advantage at 26 percent going into Saturday's election. She came out of it 48 points ahead. Worse yet for Sanders, Clinton defeated him 86 to 14 percent among African American voters, according to exit polls, raising serious questions about his ability to appeal to the vast swatch of America that doesn't look like New Hampshire and Vermont.
Tad Devine, Sanders' senior strategist, didn't see it that way.
"I think that argument is only true if you believe that Bernie Sanders, on the basis of the results of one state, is captive to those results in 49 other states," he said Monday night. "I believe that Bernie Sanders' ability to appeal to African American voters is very strong, and I think we've only really just begun."
As for Super Tuesday, Devine said, "What we have to do tomorrow is, we gotta win a lot of delegates, and I think we will. Hopefully we'll win some states, too." He was unequivocal about one thing: that even if Sanders walked away from the day with just Vermont in the bag, he wouldn't consider calling it quits.
"You should understand that we're staying in the race for many months," Devine pledged. "That is not even a consideration at the moment."
Early the next morning, after Sanders cast his ballot at the Robert Miller Community and Recreation Center in Burlington's New North End, the candidate himself was even less equivocal.
"This is a campaign that is going to the Philadelphia convention in July," he told a gaggle of reporters shivering outside.
Sanders may well have the cash to sustain a prolonged bid. He raised a remarkable $6 million Monday, even after losing South Carolina — bringing his February fundraising total to $42 million. But if Sanders and his top aides can't articulate a plausible path to the nomination, he will face deafening calls from Clinton sympathizers and other establishment Democrats to get out of the race.
Around Burlington Tuesday morning, in the cradle of the Sanders revolution, his devoted supporters — some lifelong constituents — didn't want to ponder a race without him.
"Obviously, when I was a kid and growing up, nobody ever thought that he would be in this place," said Noelle Cleveland, who was born in Burlington during Sanders' mayoral administration. "I believe that he is standing up for working people, and I agree with his issues domestically and internationally, and I also don't think he's a lying son of a bitch."
James Lockridge, executive director of Big Heavy World, said he'd been casting ballots for Sanders since moving to town in 1989. After voting Tuesday at the Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes, he said there might be one downside to a Sanders win.
"I'm not looking forward to the pain in the ass when the roads are blocked because he's president," Lockridge said.
"I just hope the rent doesn't go up even more," echoed Patrick McAndrew, a long-haired, bearded yoga teacher and musician. "And I hope that we can still find parking."
Mickey Smith, editor of Morrisville's News & Citizen, died early Saturday of an apparent heart attack, according to the paper for which he'd worked on and off for 25 years. He was 45 years old.
Smith, who took over the newsroom last year, was more than a journalist. He served on the Morristown Selectboard and, in 2012 and 2014, ran for the two-member legislative district occupied by House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown).
"I'm used to asking questions, and that's what I tell the voters I want to go to Montpelier to do," he told Seven Days in a July 2014 interview. "Ask questions before something becomes a law."
Since the owners of the Stowe Reporter bought the News & Citizen last October, executive editor Tom Kearney served as Smith's boss.
"He knew everybody in town," Kearney says. "He got some great stories because of his connections."
Smith leaves behind a wife, Kristin, two young daughters and extended family scattered about the state.
"People are pretty much shocked," Kearney says. "It's hard to imagine he's not coming through that door sometime."