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Sen. Bernie Sanders address a large crowd during a campaign stop in Iowa over the weekend. (Photo: AP)

Barnstorming Iowa and 'Berning Up' the Internet as Sanders Surge Continues

Said one potential voter, 'He seems to be saying the stuff that I'm thinking.'

Jon Queally

In addition to continued gains in key polls and a strong showing in Iowa over the weekend, a key aspect of the insurgent Bernie Sanders campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination appears to be his explosive popularity across the national Internet landscape, especially on social media platforms.

As the New York Daily News reports Monday, data of online trends shows the self-described socialist is "berning up the internet" with more people on Google "searching about Sanders than Clinton since mid-June" and that the overall conversation about him on Facebook has "nearly tripled" in recent weeks—"from 5.5 million unique interactions the week ending Aug. 5 to 14.4 million in the week ending Aug. 12." According to one impartial online analyst, the trends are impressive.

"They're doing a fantastic job on the digital side, no question," Jason Rosenbaum, the technology director of the online platform Action Network, told the Daily News.

And, even as he credited the Sanders technical team, Rosenbaum said the success goes well beyond digital savviness. "You can't make something out of nothing but talented people are able to harness that excitement in an authentic way. And one of Bernie's big appeals is that he's authentic," he said. "That's a real key part of online organizing."

In addition to well-attended weekend rallies Iowa and record-breaking rallies in cities nationwide in recent weeks, the Sanders campaign last month reported that more the 100,000 people participated in an online "house party" forum hosted by his supporters in private homes and public spaces in every state.

Kenneth Pennington, the digital director for the Sanders for President campaign, told the Daily News that online presence is not just spurring social media shares, but is resulting in deeper off-line involvement resulting in a growing army of volunteers and increased donations.

"Part of the pyramid," explained Pennington, "is at the very base level people taking those easy actions, spreading the word on social media. And graduating up from there... We have more than 120,000 very active volunteers who have taken action that they don't want to just take the easy social media action, they've said they want to host, attend or help coordinate volunteers to do phone calls, canvassing, put up yard signs."

Sanders routinely complains about the media's obsession over gossip and horse-race politics over policy, the Daily News reports, but Pennington says the campaign very clearly sees online channels as a direct way to communicate with potential voters about what the issues they believe are most important.

"[Sanders] sees social media as a way to talk about the issues the traditional media may not be inclined to cover," Pennington told the newspaper.

With Sanders in Iowa this week talking with voters in the key early-voting state and as many in the corporate media and cable news promoting an idea that his surging campaign is somehow similar to that of billionaire media personality Donald Trump, Sanders himself put down those notions while appearing on NBC's Meet the Press with Chuck Todd on Sunday.

"Here’s the difference. I am not a billionaire," Sanders said. "My family doesn’t have a whole lot of people. We are raising our campaign contributions from 350,000 people who are contributing on average Chuck, $31.20 apiece. That’s our response to out to working class people, to go out to the middle-class people and gain support. I think that’s a little bit different approach than Donald Trump’s."


At a town hall gathering on Saturday that attracted approximately 600 people to the Boone County Fairgrounds in Iowa, Sanders told those supporters that they were the backbone of his campaign.

"(The opponents) have the ads, they have the money," Sanders said. "What do we have that they don’t have? We have passion and we have the people. And when people stand together, we can defeat big money. We have the people and we have the ideas.”

Following other weekend Iowa stops in Eldridge and Dubuque on Sunday, the Des Moines Register reported on how Sanders' message is resonating with local voters:

With classes still out for summer, Loras College junior Rachael Collins traveled to Dubuque for Sanders' rally from her home in the Chicago suburbs.  She said she long considered herself a Clinton fan.

But the more she learned about Sanders, the more she came to realize she shared his views, she said. As the only Democrat in her conservative Irish Catholic family, Collins said even some in her family are starting to relate to Sanders' message.

"I'm going to be a junior in college and I'm already $16,000 in debt. That's a terrifying thought," said Collins, 20. "And for someone to say that's not right — it's monumental."

The Dubuque rally capped off a three-day Iowa swing for Sanders, who spoke earlier Sunday in Marion, Eldridge and Clinton. On the trail Sunday, supporters said the campaign seems to be gaining legitimacy by the day. The latest rolling average of polls from Real Clear Politics puts Sanders' Iowa support at 26.3 percent to Clinton's 50.5 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers.

"I admire his moxie. People thought he was a joke, but he may beat Hillary Clinton," said John C. Anderson of Silvis, Ill.

 Anderson, one of hundreds to attend a Sunday afternoon rally at the Scott County Park in Eldridge, said he has a "visceral reaction" to Clinton. And the more he hears Sanders speak, the more he likes him.

"He's making inroads and people see him as a real candidate, not just a disgruntled socialist," said Anderson, a 70-year-old retiree. "He's a real factor in this election."

Asked by Ana Marie Cox of the New York Times Magazine on Sunday to give his "elevator speech" on why his brand of socialism is a winning political argument, Sanders said, "My elevator pitch is that the United States has a grotesque level of income and wealth inequality where the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, where almost 20 percent of our children are living in poverty, 40 percent of African-American children are living in poverty. We are moving rapidly toward an oligarchic form of society where a small number of families control not only the economy but our political system as well. It is imperative that we develop a strong political movement that says to the billionaire class they cannot have it all."

As Richard Gelhar, a factory worker and one of the voters in Iowa who spoke to the Register put it, "He seems to be saying the stuff that I'm thinking."

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