Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign has been defined by a grassroots anti-establishment effort. So far, the senator has broken the record for individual contributions (now over 2.3 million individual donations) with most of those contributions clocking in at under $25.
In New Jersey, the grassroots sentiment for the Sanders campaign is strong. PolitickerNJ spoke with David Robinson, one of Sanders’ grassroots organizers to find out why he thinks the presidential hopeful has pulled ahead in the polls compared with his primary foe former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, what New Jersey’s supporters plan on doing to help voters ‘feel the Bern’ in early primary states and how Assemblyman John Wisniewski’s decision to become the face of the campaign in the Garden State is changing the dynamic of Bernie’s run in NJ.
On Wednesday January 27 Sander’s campaign will officially kick off in NJ. According to Robinson, over 200 people have RSVP’d to the kickoff. At that event, Wisniewski and his grassroots team will be joined by national campaign leaders to work out the “nuts and bolts” of getting Sanders on the ballot, sign up volunteers to get signatures and talk about how to apply to be a delegate for the convention. Robinson said that, for Sanders’ time in New Jersey, Wednesday is just the beginning.
Recently, the poll numbers have been increasingly favorable for Bernie Sanders, showing him pulling out in front of Clinton in both New Hampshire and Iowa. Why do you think he is catching on as a presidential candidate?
People are, quite frankly, learning about him. They are knowing who he is and hearing his message. When he first started a lot of people in the country had never even heard of him. I don’t think it is people changing their minds, I think it is people hearing the senator’s message and learning about his long, consistent record and it resonates with a lot of folks.
What do you think of Sanders’ support base in New Jersey? Why do you think his backers are supporting him over another candidate like Clinton?
It is both strong and growing. One of the biggest factors that said a lot to me was, back in July when we had that organizing meeting. In past campaigns if we would have a meeting to support a candidate we would get ten people in the room if we were lucky. For this one I had so many RSVPs I had to change the venue. We filled up the place that we had and we had to turn people away. Almost 200 people came out to hear Senator Sanders in July. It is really unprecedented as are the numbers of small, individual contributions he has received from people around the country. That has never happened before.
I think his support is very strong and people are passionate about Senator Sanders because of his passion about the issues and how he is talking about issues that are important to people around the country.
What are you doing, personally, as a grassroots organizer to help the Sanders campaign both in New Jersey and elsewhere?
Looking forward, the next thing that is happening is Wednesday we are having a kickoff meeting with our new state chairman, John Wisniewski who is the former Democratic Party Chairman of New Jersey. Up until this point, a lot of our work in New Jersey has been talking to folks, reaching out to people that we know and really building an army of millions of people across the country who are really getting out Senator Sanders’ message and introducing him to people who haven’t heard of him before. Of course we have been making calls to Iowa and New Hampshire. I think we have made over 400,000 phone calls to Iowa alone.
I have heard that a lot of New Jersey supporters for different presidential candidates are organizing trips to New Hampshire in a show of support. What is the Sanders campaign doing? Do you have any similar plans?
I am sure that we are going to have bus trips to New Hampshire, Iowa is a little far for people to travel. There are individuals who are heading up themselves. It is very interesting. We are a true grassroots, non-centralized movement. There are a lot of people doing a lot of things from the ground up as opposed to from the top down. Fortunately, the campaign is really great in terms of their reach out and their ability to work with us. I am sure we are going to have more of that after we officially kick off on Wednesday.
We have been using social media a lot to communicate with each other both in different areas of New Jersey and across the country. What the organizers have done is set up pages if you look on facebook for Sanders all across the country. It is a way to reach out to people who are interested in the campaign, share news stories and know what is going on all across the country pretty much instantly. It has been very helpful.
Do you think Assemblyman John Wisniewski coming on board with the Sanders campaign in New Jersey has helped to give the Senator’s presidential run some validity in a state where the establishment seems so skewed toward Clinton?
It depends how you define ‘validity.’ Senator Sanders has very strong support amongst the voters across New Jersey. I guess validity in terms of our elected officials, absolutely. A former sate chairman backing Senator Sanders is huge. I think we are going to see more of them getting on board as well.
Why do you think his message inspires so many individuals to make those small contributions that have become a campaign hallmark?
He said something like—and I don’ t want to misquote him—that he is going to do something revolutionary in his campaign, he is going to tell the truth. He is telling the truth about the political situation in the United States. I think that a lot of people from a broad spectrum of political views are fed up with the influence of big money on politics in our country. It is kind of ironic that we just had the sixth anniversary of the Citizens United decision in our country that allowed this unlimited spigot of money to pour into political campaigns. I think most Americans are sick and tired or the influence of big money on our elections and they want it to end. Senator Sanders had made that one of his rallying cries from the beginning of his political career.
His stance on other issues, racial justice, on a living wage, on the fact that he voted against the authorization of the invasion of Iraq, women’s rights, LGBT equality. All of these issues he has not wavered on. That unwavering passion toward solving those very big, real issues in our country is, I think, resonating with people.
Do you think Sanders is in a position to beat Secretary Clinton for the nomination? Is he the next president?
That is my opinion, yes. And it is my hope as well.
The Wednesday kickoff will be at the Sayreville Democratic Organization in Parlin.