SEATTLE—Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ brand of democratic socialism may take some explaining in some parts of the United States, but not in Seattle.
This city elected a socialist, Kshama Sawant, to the City Council in 2013 and was among the first to phase in a $15 minimum wage, mandate sick leave for most companies and offer paid parental leave for city workers — issues that mirror Sanders’ platform.
So it’s not surprising the U.S. senator from Vermont has found enthusiastic support here. Seattle is among the top cities that have donated to Sanders’ campaign, and twice as many Seattle individual donors have given to Sanders than to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, according to federal campaign data through the end of February.
The senator returns to Seattle’s Safeco Field on Friday — his second large rally here in less than a week — hoping to energize voters a day before Washington’s Democratic caucuses. Sanders has drawn big crowds in liberal cities like Seattle nationally, but in Washington he has also held events in more conservative areas like Spokane, Vancouver and Yakima.
Saturday’s nominating contest is expected to draw tens of thousands of voters who will determine how 101 of the state’s Democratic delegates will be awarded.
So far Sanders has performed better in states with caucuses than primaries, which tend to have larger populations of liberal whites, and “the fact that his supporters are more energized is a huge factor,” said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “The real problem is the math,” he added.
Clinton has a comfortable lead over Sanders in the delegate count. Based on primaries and caucuses to date, the former secretary of state leads Sanders 1,223 to 920.
During a Tuesday campaign stop in Everett, about 30 miles north of Seattle, Clinton noted she has gotten 2.6 million more votes than Sanders and more votes than anyone else, including Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
“The senator has made clear that we’re taking this all the way to the convention in July,” said Sanders’ Washington state director Dulce Saenz. “We have an uphill battle, absolutely. There’s no denying the math, but the second half of the primary calendar is much more favorable to Bernie.”
Most of the state’s Democratic leadership has endorsed Clinton, including Gov. Jay Inslee and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. But Sanders has raised more in individual contributions from this state than any other presidential candidate.
Seattle leads the way among large cities in per-capita individual contributions to Sanders, with about $145 for every 100 people, according to an analysis of federal campaign data. In terms of dollars, Seattle trails only New York and San Francisco in total individual contributions from cities, with $884,000 given through the end of February. That does not include individual contributions under $200, which makes up the majority of Sanders’ support.
“Nobody is very surprised that Bernie Sanders has so much support because the city elected a much more radical socialist a few years ago,” said James Gregory, a history professor at the University of Washington.
“Seattle turned liberal in 1969 and has never looked back,” Gregory added, noting the city’s last seven mayors have been progressive. Seattle periodically gains a lot of attention for some labor left-wing event, such as the WTO demonstrations of 1999, which helps persuade others to come to the city, he said.
Sanders is popular among his party’s younger people and the party’s most liberal voters.
“Bernie’s very humane approach to politics really resonates with what Seattleites believe in,” said Basilia Brownwell, 64, a retired public school teacher who has been hosting phone banks and events to get supporters to caucus. “It taps into Seattleites’ feeling that the world they’re seeing around them is not part of their dream. Bernie speaks their dream.”
Lura Ulloa Bradford, 29, said Sanders’ message about income inequality resonates with her. “He has the middle class in mind,” she said.
“It’s all grassroots, and it’s really what Seattle is all about, building something from the ground up,” said Bradford, who runs an arts and event space on Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, blocks from Sanders’ campaign office.