He’s lagging in delegates and votes, but Bernie Sanders is still on one excellent campaign adventure.
In the past few months the Vermont senator and his wife, Jane, have traveled to Rome to attend a conference and met Pope Francis, toured Mount Rushmore and rallied supporters in sunny Puerto Rico. He’s scored seats for the Broadway musical sensation “Hamilton” and hobnobbed with celebrities at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
Earlier this week, he dropped in on the final game of the NBA’s Western Conference finals.
Sanders has never wavered in his message of political revolution and these outings are in the name of his insurgent campaign. But after years as a relatively obscure senator from a small state, he is embracing his newfound fame. And why not, said Republican operative Rick Tyler, who said these opportunities come with the territory.
“He should skydive. He should run a marathon. He should take the hot wings challenge at some local restaurant. … There’s lots of cool stuff you could do,” said Tyler. “He might climb Mt. McKinley. Why not? Enter a polka dancing contest.”
Sanders’ freewheeling political adventure could soon end as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton passes the magic number needed to clinch the Democratic nomination and calls intensify for Sanders to exit the race. Sanders and Clinton are both campaigning aggressively in California, among several states voting Tuesday.
Of course, Sanders is far from the first candidate to enjoy the perks of the trail. But while Bill Clinton famously played his saxophone alongside late-night host Arsenio Hall and Barack Obama would play basketball on primary days, few candidates have taken as many side excursions as Sanders. In part that’s because they fear looking like they’re focused on activities other than winning voters.
And like other trailing candidates before him, Sanders has used novelty events to get attention. In the final weeks of his failed 2012 primary bid, animal lover Newt Gingrich spent a lot of time visiting zoos — trips that resulted in many photos of the candidate with animals. His campaign even launched a website, “Pets with Newt,” that featured a list of his favorite zoos.
Puerto Rico is a voting territory, Pope Francis is a world leader and events and shows provide access to supporters and new opportunities to push his message. After enthusiastically taking in a Golden State Warriors victory, Sanders called the team’s comeback win “a very good omen for our campaign,” according to CNN.
“It gets him press and he might as well enjoy the spotlight he’s in,” said Leonard Steinhorn, a professor of communication at American University specializing in American politics and history. “If he can be seen at a Warriors game when millions of people are watching at the same time, why not do it?”
Sanders’ ambitious campaign schedule has not been affected. Spokesman Michael Briggs said Sanders has done 30 rallies in California since mid-May. He added that Sanders spent time in Puerto Rico touring some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods and meeting “with people confronting the financial crisis.”
Briggs also noted that Clinton and Obama have taken in “Hamilton.” He said Sanders paid for the “Hamilton” tickets while the Warriors tickets were paid for privately; the travel to Rome was a campaign expense.
Some of the activities do not seem like standard fare for a Vermont senator known for his workaholic ways. In his decades in Congress, Sanders has rarely attended the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, a star-studded annual Washington affair. This year, he was seated at a front-row table with his wife, where he mingled with Morgan Freeman and Aretha Franklin.
Sanders didn’t quite join in on all the fun: He skipped the tux in favor of a sober blue suit. Briggs said he had attended the dinner once before in his early days in the Senate.
To date, former Secretary of State Clinton has spent considerably less time on this kind of entertainment or travel. She has not made a foreign trip since starting her campaign. Presumptive Republican front-runner Donald Trump has not done as many side activities, though he has used his campaign to promote his products, including a Trump hotel under construction in Washington and a newly renovated golf course in Scotland, which he will visit later this month.
Of course, Clinton and Trump are longtime celebrities who have enjoyed the perks of stardom for years. For them, there’s far more value in playing it straight on the campaign trail to avoid reminding voters of their privileged status.
All three candidates have appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” a standard stop for candidates. Clinton has held concerts with singers Katy Perry and Demi Lovato, and was introduced by Jon Bon Jovi in New Jersey this week. Sanders is campaigning with a rotating cast of stars, including Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover.
Clinton backers say they don’t begrudge Sanders his fun. “Great, he wants to have his YOLO moments, go ahead,” said Democratic strategist Mary Ann Marsh, using the acronym for the expression “you only live once.”
Clinton, Marsh added, “actually is trying to be president of the United States.”
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