'Grassroots' for the win? Bernie Sanders attracts 28,000 to his campaign rally

Bernie Sanders's grassroots campaign is succeeding in the face of the name recognition and wealth dominating the 2016 presidential race. 

Troy Wayrynen/AP
Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., reach to shake his hand at a rally, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015, at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I) of Vermont, is many things – a grassroots connoisseur, an outspoken critic of big banks, and a self-proclaimed socialist to name a few – but, most remarkably, he’s the king of rally attendance.

According to his presidential campaign, Senator Sanders drew 28,000 people to his rally in Portland, Ore., on Sunday – more than could fit in the stadium. As The Washington Post points out, Sanders has drawn larger crowds than any candidate from either party at this point in the 2016 cycle despite the fact that his poll numbers continue to lag a considerable amount behind Hillary Clinton, the out-front favorite.

And the crowds Sanders is drawing appear to be growing steadily larger. The big turnout on Sunday night followed a newsworthy Saturday.  Black Lives Matter protesters refused to let him take the stage at an event Saturday afternoon. But that night in Seattle, Sanders drew about 15,000 to a rally – his largest turnout to date.

An Associated Press report from July acknowledges the success of the Sanders campaign, but warns that his organization doesn't have the infrastructure to sustain itself long-term. At the time of the report, Sanders had a few more than 50 paid staffers in all. Clinton had nearly 50 organizers in Iowa (an important caucus state) alone, as well as at least one in every other state.

“The grassroots movement behind this campaign has been much faster than I think anyone could have anticipated," Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver told AP. “The organization is trying to catch up to where people are.”

And yet, whatever his liabilities, Sanders is still going strong. His success lies in exactly what his campaign manager describes – grassroots politics.

In July, the campaign staged a digital rally that livestreamed to more than 1,500 simultaneous gatherings planned in bars, coffee shops, and living rooms nationwide. It was part of what The Washington Post calls Sanders’s effort to “beam himself into every living room.”

“What we are trying, as part of creating a political revolution, is creating a grass-roots movement of millions and millions of people,” Sanders told the Post. He called the virtual gathering “the largest digital organizing event in the history of the country.”

While he may not win, Sanders has shown the US that it’s possible to succeed without name recognition or astronomical amounts of wealth – the two factors that seem to be most at play in the 2016 presidential election.

As The Washington Post reported in April, Sanders entered the race minus the frills and thrills of political drama.

“I believe that in a democracy what elections are about are serous debates over serious issues – not political gossip, not making campaigns into soap offices. This is not the Red Sox versus the Yankees,” Sanders said at the kickoff of his campaign. “I would hope – and I ask the media’s help on this – allow us to discuss the important issues facing the American people.”

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