Washington: A heart attack, formidable rivals and age concerns have failed to derail US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, whose campaign, buoyed by fervent young supporters, has overcome hurdles to reaffirm his position as a top White House contender.
“We're proving you don't need to beg the wealthy and the powerful” for donations, the liberal US senator from Vermont said Thursday while announcing that his campaign has raised $34.5 million in the final three months of 2019, the largest haul yet by any Democrat in the field.
Sanders has reclaimed the second place in the Democratic Party race from fellow liberal Elizabeth Warren, his US Senate colleague who saw a meteoric rise in recent months, as the candidates battle to challenge President Donald Trump in November.
While Sanders is polling second in in the crucial state of Iowa, which opens the nomination race with voting on February 3, he leads outright in New Hampshire, which votes the following week.
Although the self-described Democratic socialist trails frontrunner Joe Biden nationally, he has outshone the moderate former vice-president in fundraising: $96 million in 2019 versus Biden's $60 million.
The feat is all the more impressive given that Sanders, the race's oldest candidate at 78, started the fourth quarter in a perilous position, having suffered a heart attack on October 1.
His staff was criticized for not being transparent at first about the potential campaign-ending vulnerability. But Sanders made an impressive recovery, and was given a clean bill of health last week by a cardiologist who said he can continue campaigning "without limitation."
While recovering from heart trouble he landed a massive endorsement from liberal congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a popular figure among progressives. She has since hit the campaign trail several times alongside Sanders, who has also earned support from other luminaries of the party's left wing including Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.
“They lend him a certain credibility with non-white voters" following his 2016 Democratic race against Hillary Clinton when his campaign was "criticized for lack of diversity," Miles Coleman, an expert with the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told AFP.
Over the past year, Sanders has brought together a sprawling coalition, from environmental activists, labor leaders and rapper Cardi B to an army of thousands of young volunteers.
“With that kind of grassroots effort, a multiracial, multicultural grassroots movement, we're going to defeat the worst president in the history of our country, Donald Trump,” said Sanders, who was clad in a parka to brave the Iowa cold in a video he posted on Twitter Wednesday as he kicked off a bus tour across the state.
The rejuvenated candidate issued a defiant message, predicting that he would win Iowa and then New Hampshire on his way "to win the Democratic nomination."
With the image of a convalescing Sanders in the rear view mirror, the often-disheveled, occasionally gruff-toned lawmaker has appeared vigorous and even whimsical in recent Democratic debates.
The Sanders policy platform is unapologetically left-wing. He proposes universal health care and tuition-free college and backs the Green New Deal transition to renewable energy, programs that critics say will cost tens of trillions of dollars.
The candidate who calls for nothing less than "political revolution" is counting on solid support among young voters. "Millennials appreciate authenticity," Coleman said.
And with Sanders being "not your typical, polished politician," he appears more relatable to young Americans, especially those who came of age after the 2008 financial crisis and have not grown up believing "socialism" is a dirty word, Coleman added.
In influential Iowa, Sanders has an advantage. “He has a strong grassroots organization from 2016 which he has maintained and added to,’ said William Sweeney of American University's School of Public Affairs.
Sanders is in a close second in Iowa, according to a poll average compiled by website RealClearPolitics, behind young moderate Pete Buttigieg.
In New Hampshire, Sanders is leading all comers, including Warren, who has slipped to fourth place there.
Each is nonetheless under threat from the other because they occupy the same ideological space. But Warren remains the only woman in the top tier, something which could work to her advantage in the long run....