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SandersSanta Cruz County is going wild for Bernie Sanders

At a “Brews for Bernie” event, a life-size Bernie Sanders cutout greets a diverse crowd of enthusiastic supporters at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing. A merchandise table is stocked with “Feel the Bern” T-shirts, bumper stickers and pins. Around the patio, everyone has their own reasons for supporting Bernie Sanders as their candidate for the democratic nominee in the 2016 presidential race.

“He’s humanizing politics,” says one attendee. “He’s not groomed. He’s authentic—and authenticity is something that American people like right now,” says another.

“He’s not beholden to Wall Street,” says a woman with flowers in her hair. Bernie Sanders’ lack of a Super Pac and his staunch refusal to accept money from Wall Street interests is mentioned repeatedly.

Over the course of the summer, it appears that Santa Cruz County’s electorate—of which 53 percent are registered Democrats, and 15 percent are Republicans—has fallen hard for the socialist senator from Vermont.

There are still supporters of Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, like Darrell and Karen Darling, who sat down with me in their landmark Darling House bed-and-breakfast.

I found the Darlings after calling the Democratic Party of Santa Cruz and asking why there didn’t seem to be any high-profile shows of support for Clinton. Where, I wondered, are the people gathering at local establishments, planning debate-watching parties and crowding busy intersections waving signs for the Democratic frontrunner?

“I know just the pair,” said the woman on the other end of the line.

Longtime supporters of the Democratic Party, the Darlings have hosted a number of fundraisers and campaign events over the years at their beachside bed and breakfast for candidates including Clinton, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Mayor Don Lane. Hillary Clinton first met the couple during an event at the Darling House in the early 1990s, when they  supported her husband’s initial run for the presidency. She later invited the couple to the White House.

The Darling’s connection to the Clintons took a tragic turn when their youngest son Adam, then an aide to Bill Clinton’s Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, died in a plane crash over Croatia along with Brown and 33 others.

Darrell Darling, now in his mid-70s, has put together a lifetime of activist politics, from the Civil Rights movement and anti-Vietnam War effort to fighting for prison reform. In the race, Sanders is the one getting attention for his liberal stance on progressive issues like health care, a topic where Clinton was once seen as a trailblazer for her efforts to get all Americans covered.

Darling calls Sanders a man of “great integrity” and says he and his wife have supported past “alternate candidates” on a number of occasions, including anti-war presidential candidates like Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minnesota) and Congressman John Anderson (D-Illinois). He puts Sanders in that alternate category, and feels that Clinton has a better shot in the general 2016 election against a Republican nominee. “There is a place for a strong showing by an alternative candidate that brings the party to its roots, and I think Bernie Sanders does that,” Darling says.

“But politics is about winning,” he adds. “And if you don’t win, you don’t shape public policy.”

As of press time, Vice President Joe Biden, according to reports from Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, is mulling over a run and could announce his candidacy for the Democratic nod any minute now.

The Democratic race also includes Sen. Jim Webb (D-Virginia), former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee. The Republican side has 15 candidates, with billionaire real estate developer and TV personality Donald Trump leading the polls, followed by neurosurgeon Ben Carson and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida).

Bern, Baby

Building on President Barack Obama’s success mobilizing a grassroots campaign, Bernie Sanders has taken it to a whole new level, using online technology and social media in clever ways to draw people to events and organize supporter communities.

“The Bernie Sanders website has this incredible tool to allow any grassroots organizer to post an event,” says Manuel Rivas, part of the Watsonville for Bernie Sanders contingent, at a watch party held last Tuesday at the Appleton Grill. With an enrapt crowd of about 50, it’s one of more than 4,000 parties held nationwide that night.

With the average campaign contribution amount at just over $30, Bernie Sanders has raised more money than Barack Obama did at this point in his 2008 presidential primary race.

Sanders’ website captures the breadth of grassroots support for the Vermont senator on a map of the United States, dotted with volunteer-run events—Brews for Bernie, Bike for Bernie, Honk for Bernie—the list goes on and on, around the nation, including in Santa Cruz County.

The site makes it easy to track his campaign’s momentum. On July 28, for a coordinating day of campaigning, Sanders volunteers organized more than 3,000 grassroots gatherings in living rooms, coffee shops and union halls in all 50 states, with more than 82,000 people indicating they would take part.

Shawn Orgel-Olson organized the local Brews for Bernie event, which drew upward of 80 people. He says he aims to hold an event every two weeks, picking venues like local taprooms and the downtown Food Lounge, where he hosted  a debate-watching party.

Local organizers like Orgel-Olson and Rivas, the Watsonville organizer, know they’re lucky these days. Eight years ago, if you wanted to host a political event, where would you have it?

“It is like back in the day when people would go to coffee shops and discuss politics – these are perfect venues for political discourse,” says Orgel-Olson, as we watch people laughing, drinking craft brews and discussing their candidate.

Darling says that for Santa Cruz County, the time has come to support a woman candidate, like Clinton. He says politicians need to have a woman’s perspective on all issues—not just women’s issues. He also says that Sanders would probably be a good president, and that his presence on the campaign might pull Clinton to the left, something he’s happy about.

“It’s really important to have a candidate who may or may not win the nomination but that represents the issues and positions on the left articulately and with integrity,” he says. “We are encouraged by that in this race.”

Additional reporting contributed by Jacob Pierce.


NO-PANDER SANDERS Bernie Sanders’ supporters see him as a man of integrity who speaks from the heart.

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