BernieSanders.com(WASHINGTON) — In the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Vermont’s independent, self-described “Democratic Socialist” senator, Bernie Sanders, has stolen the spotlight.
While former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton maintains a double-digit lead in most polls, Sanders has surprised many people — even himself — by drawing incredible crowds across the country.
So far this election cycle, he holds the record for the most people at one single event (recently in Madison, Wisconsin, 10,000 people turned out) and the largest event in Iowa (in Council Bluffs, 2,500 attended one of his rallies). And earlier this week in Portland, Maine, 7,500 people showed up to see him.
Who are all of these people and why do they love Bernie? ABC News spoke to five Sanders superfans. Here are their stories:
Shannon McCartney, Marijuana legalization advocate
In a crowd of 7,500 people in Maine, Shannon McCartney stood out. With her Bernie for President tee-shirt and stickers plastered all over her leggings, McCartney ran up and down the line of people waiting outside handing out signs and getting people excited.
Bubbly, loud and energetic, McCartney, 25, likes to say that Sanders is “our last hope for democracy.” She works for an advocacy organization to legalize marijuana and now also volunteers indirectly for Sanders’ campaign. She helped set-up a local grassroots group called “Portland for Bernie” that worked alongside the official campaign to spread the word about the event and sign up new volunteers.
“I am so excited about his message that I want everyone to know about him. Everybody,” she said. “He is for ‘The 99 Percent.’ He is for the little people. He is not a corporation. He is not a billionaire. He for representing the people who work for America.”
Rick Gannaway, Insurance industry
Rick Gannaway brought a handmade sign that read, “We Feel the Bern” — a phrase that is now used widely among Sanders’ supporters online. Gannaway works in insurance in Portland, Maine, and said Sanders has been his guy for a long time.
“We like his advocacy for a working wage,” he said. “I have crippling student loans and I think the interest rates that are being changed on those student loans are unethical. They shouldn’t be making a profit off of my education.”
Sanders regularly talks about the need to help graduates with their loans. Gannaway said he helped spread the word about the event in his hometown through Facebook and conversations with friends.
Tim Crockett, Retired education specialist
Tim Crockett of Brunswick Maine, is a self-identified socialist and said Sanders was “the closest we’ve got.” Asked what he meant when he called himself a socialist, Crockett answered that he believed in caps on income, equal rights and access to health care and livable wages.
“Those are the things that are important to average people,” he said and that Sanders’ message of fighting income inequality resonates with him.
As for Hillary Clinton, Crockett said he was a fan of the former first lady.
“I just think she has sold out to big money, which she is calculating she has to do to win,” he said. “She might be right in the long run,” he added, “But for now, [I] absolutely support Bernie.”
Crockett, like many far-left progressives who pack into Sanders’ events, has been following the senator since he first ran and won as an Independent, socialist mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Crocket said he heard about Monday’s event because he is on Sanders’ mailing list.
Jackie Curley, Retired teacher
Jackie Curley was one of the first people in line for the event in Portland on Monday. She got to the arena three and half hours before the event and secured seats close to the stage.
“He’s the only one I can get excited, and we’re really lucky to have him,” she said.
As a retired teacher who lost her job at one point, Curley said she identified with those who are struggling to support their families.
“I want someone who can make a big change,” she said. “He talks about issues that matter to 90 percent of people.”
As for the senator’s uphill climb against Clinton, Curley says that after President Obama, anyone can get elected.
“He’s a real populist that’s why he’s going to get elected,” she said.
Curley heard about the event on Facebook.
Liam Dewey, High school student
Liam Dewey is only 16 years old, but he will be eligible to vote come November 2016, and said he plans “when Bernie wins the primary” to vote for him.
A high school student from Medfield, Massachusetts, Dewey brought friends up to Maine for the event. They had homemade signs that read “Camp Counselors for Bernie.” Dewey said he is a politically active student, and Sanders’ legislation to make public universities tuition-free particularly appealed to him.
Clinton’s campaign has also talked about the need to make college more affordable. When asked about that, Dewey replied that he did not “have any problems” with Clinton, but trusted Sanders more.
“I feel as if some of the things she says are not genuine. They go with the tide of public opinion … it turns off voters,” Dewey said. “I might not agree with Bernie on everything, but I believe he has values, and he’s going to stick to those and he will not lie to us.”
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