PORTLAND, Maine — Looking to regain momentum in an underdog campaign, Democratic presidential underdog Bernie Sanders said a win in Sunday’s Maine caucuses would be “another step forward towards a political revolution.”
His rally at the State Theatre in downtown Portland came four days before Maine’s Democratic caucuses, which Sanders, a progressive U.S. senator from Vermont who calls himself a “democratic socialist,” sees as a potential win for his campaign.
“If we have a large turnout in Maine, we will win this state,” he said before a crowd of about 1,000, “and if we win Maine, we move another step forward towards a political revolution in this country.”
Sanders has always been a good bet to win Maine over national frontrunner Hillary Clinton and has paid more attention to Maine than perhaps any other candidate: He visited Portland for a rally in July 2015 and got dozens of endorsements from legislators and other prominent Democrats.
But even a big win in Maine won’t save him: He’s fighting a national tide that turned hard against him on Super Tuesday, when Clinton won seven of 11 voting states — including the four largest, Texas, Virginia, Georgia and Massachusetts, behind heavy support from black voters.
It left Sanders with Minnesota, Colorado, Oklahoma and his home state. Maine’s a heavily white state with liberal Democratic voters, like his home state and others where he has fared well, including New Hampshire, where he got more than 60 percent of votes.
Behind a platform aiming to ease income inequality with universal health care, free tuition at public colleges and universities, and raising the minimum wage, he has fallen short of his target number of delegates, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis, putting Clinton on the path to being Democrats’ presumptive nominee unless Sanders overachieves going forward.
In Tuesday speeches, Clinton and Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, who also took seven states, focused on each other. She called him divisive and said America’s electoral stakes “have never been higher.” Trump said once he’s the Republican nominee, he’s “going after one person — Hillary Clinton.”
Sanders has vowed to stay in the race and take his fight to the Democratic National Convention in July, and his supporters certainly don’t want to settle for Clinton, who has squabbled with the underdog over her ties to Wall Street and big banks.
He hit Clinton on that in Portland, saying there’s “one candidate” taking contributions from banks, the fossil fuel industry and billionaires, “and that candidate is not me.”
The Vermont senator blasted the media repeatedly in his Portland speech, including pundits who have said Clinton’s the odds-on favorite to win, saying “that means we’re probably going to win in a landslide,” drawing massive applause.
Brooke Hayne, a Sanders supporter from Portland, said he has a chance to win in Maine and nationwide, calling Clinton “robotic and insincere,” while “you can’t even debate the consistency of Bernie.”
While Sanders should get significant support in Maine on Sunday, he faces some obstacles: Many of the state’s top Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Attorney General Janet Mills, have backed Clinton.
Three of five Maine “superdelegates” — party officials who don’t have to back voters’ preferred nominee — also have endorsed Clinton. That makes it possible for Sanders to win Maine, but leave with the same delegate total as Clinton.
It’s a battle between Democrats’ heads and hearts: Clinton has pitched herself as “a progressive who gets things done,” while Sanders’ “political revolution” would bring out waves of new voters to rally behind populist, progressive policies.
Jake Danforth, an 18-year-old high school senior from Gray, conceded that Sanders may not be able to “get everything done.” But nobody could in a gridlocked Washington, he said, and “you have to be big and bold” to get progress.
“You can’t settle. You can’t, especially now,” Danforth said. “There are so many important issues that settling — it really seems like a crime.”