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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Bernie's 'Political Revolution' Is Helping Candidates Across The Country

Noah Berger
Sen. Bernie Sanders, shown here at a campaign rally in Palo Alto, Calif., on June 1, is using his fundraising abilities to help local and state candidates across the country.

During the current presidential campaign, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has received more individual contributions than any other person in the history of American politics.

And at the same time that Sanders campaigns tirelessly to win the party's nomination, he's also used his fundraising abilities to help local and state candidates across the country.

When former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean ended his presidential campaign in the winter of 2004, he decided to keep the momentum of his campaign alive by forming a new organization known as Democracy for America.

The goal of the group was to financially support candidates across the country who backed many of Dean's priority issues.

If Sanders doesn't win the Democratic nomination this summer, Dean thinks Sanders should consider creating an independent organization to capture the enthusiasm and energy of his supporters.

“I think that Bernie has put on the table some things that badly needed to be on the table,” Dean says. “I think the economic system has in fact favored those at the top and left 80 percent of the people behind …That's what I'd like to see his long term legacy is. I 'd hate to see it go away after this campaign and disappear."

And Dean says Sanders' extraordinary fundraising capabilities could have a big impact on a number of Congressional and state races throughout the country.

"Bernie could elect a thousand [progressive candidates] and raise $200 million." - Former Gov. Howard Dean

“Democracy for America has probably elected 100 progressive people to various legislative bodies, water commissioners, which made a big difference in Chicago as it turned out,” he says. “Bernie could elect a thousand and raise $200 million.”

Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager, says Sanders has included links to several dozen candidates in some of his recent fundraising emails. 

"Bernie has said from the beginning of the race that obviously this is a campaign for the presidency, but it's also about this broader political revolution, about bringing transformative change to America,” Weaver says.

In one case, when Sanders backed Tim Canova, a Congressional candidate in Florida, Canova received over $250,000 in just a few days for his campaign to unseat Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

The Sanders campaign believes that Wasserman-Shultz has made a number of decisions that deliberately favor Hillary Clinton. It's a charge that Wasserman-Schultz denies.

Weaver says Sanders' call for a "political revolution" requires participation at all levels of government.

“One person, even a President Bernie Sanders, can not do that alone. And so we need not just a tremendous amount of grassroots support from people across the country but we also need to start electing more people to office who share Bernie's vision for the country,” Weaver says.

"We need not just a tremendous amount of grassroots support from people across the country but we also need to start electing more people to office who share Bernie's vision for the country." - Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver

One candidate in Vermont is already benefiting from Sanders' fundraising strategy.

Burlington Rep. Chris Pearson, who’s running for the state Senate in Chittenden County, received just over $60,000 in three days after being highlighted in a Sanders fundraising email. He got $12,000 donations with an average contribution of $5.

“It's obviously great for my effort, but more exciting to me is the work that Bernie is doing nationally to help foment this change to help really inspire this change around the country at all levels of government,” Pearson says.

Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis thinks a Sanders endorsement and his financial support could have an impact on a number of close U.S. Senate races this year.

"The Senate is going to be so much on the line with the Democrats needing only four seats, and there's about six or seven states that are really going to be the states where the Senate is decided this year,” Davis says.

The Sanders campaign says it's much too early to discuss efforts to create a new national organization because they feel Sanders will win the Democratic nomination.

But if Hillary Clinton emerges as the Democratic nominee, a Sanders-backed grassroots group could be in place for the fall campaign.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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