Sanders fans — and those on the fence — gather for campaign message in Philly

 Bernie Sanders supporters gather at 1199C Union Hall in Philadelphia for a televised address by the Democratic presidential hopeful. (Bobby Allyn/WHYY)

Bernie Sanders supporters gather at 1199C Union Hall in Philadelphia for a televised address by the Democratic presidential hopeful. (Bobby Allyn/WHYY)

Philadelphia area supporters of Bernie Sanders are beginning to spread the word about their preferred candidate for president just as he’s starting to pull strong numbers in some polls.

On Wednesday, about 150 supporters packed into a Center City union hall to listen to Sanders’ video message, which thousands of others around the country were also streaming at backyard parties and neighborhood potlucks.

In his address, the independent U.S. senator from Vermont in the running for the Democratic nomination touched on populist themes, noting how his advocates are assembling a “strong grassroots movement” to combat “the powers that be.”

Among his proposals: hiking the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour; making public colleges and universities tuition free; and dismantling the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that removed campaign spending limits for corporations and unions.

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Sanders, 73, has captured more than a third of the vote in Iowa and New Hampshire polls. But he holds just around 15 percent of the vote in national polls.

Despite many challenges, Sanders just might surge past his underdog status, supporters said Wednesday night, even if others question whether his goals are politically realistic.

Nearly everyone at the event took pot shots at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton before espousing Sanders’ virtues. 

“I see her responses as all very scripted,” said Holly Reid, who knocked on doors for the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012. “And she does not think outside the box. I don’t think she’s forward-thinking.”

Reid, who drove down to the Sanders gathering from Doylestown, is planning to pound the pavement for Sanders. 

Walter Knackstedt, another Sanders fan, and he wore a shirt with the candidate’s name to make his allegiance clear.

“She’s got money,” he said, referring to Clinton. “She may be able to pull it off by selling us soap and cans of beans, advertising to us, but I think Bernie can very well do this. He’s still definitely the underdog.”

He’s been handing out Sanders fliers at shopping malls and supermarket parking lots.

“I’ll hand someone a flier, and they’re normally not all that interested. And my comment often is, ‘I truly believe that he honestly cares about us, and it usually turns their heads a little bit,'” Knackstedt said.

Other Sanders supporters, such as medical student Maura Gordon, are quick to point out that he has bold and specific policy proposals. That’s appealing, they say.

For Gordon, it’s Sanders’ support of a single-payer health-care system, where private companies are taken out of the equation.

“He’s willing to take a stand on issues that are important to me in a way that may be political unpopular, and that’s really exciting to see,” she said.

Laniece Williams, meanwhile, is less enamored. Representing the Black Lives Matter campaign at the gathering, she said Sanders’ income equality talking points obscure discussions about racial disparities in areas of education and the criminal justice system.

“I’m still pretty skeptical,” Williams said. “Because in my voting adult life I’ve seen candidates who’ve come out really strong, and they’ve had all these great speeches, and they had all these great ideas, and when the rubber hits the road, we’re left holding the bag.”

She also formerly worked on the Obama campaign. This time around? Well, she’s uncertain. But with the election 16 months away, she has some time to sort it out. 

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