By Brenden West Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — GOOSE LAKE — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders hasn’t committed to a full-fledged presidential campaign in 2016, though he’s hinted at the possibilities. He spoke two months ago on national television about running.
He did it again Saturday in Goose Lake during the Clinton County Democrats Hall of Fame Dinner. The event is the largest annual fundraiser for the local chapter.
Sanders hoped to rally party activists behind several county, state and federal races that will take place this fall. But with candor, he admitted being in rural Iowa was a chance to gauge the electorate and see if his views are the kind that can win over regional voters.
“It’s no secret I am giving some thought about the possibility of running for president,” Sanders said after his keynote speech. “Iowa plays a very important role in the process. I thought I’d come out here and see how people respond to the various views I believe in.
“The agenda I believe in is a very progressive agenda. And I want to get a sense from Iowa and the rest of the country if there is support for that agenda.”
Saturday’s stage was smaller than it will be if he throws it down in 2016. Over 200 local Democrats came to support the party platform, which at this point appears to be focusing on health care, education and job creation.
It wasn’t a campaign crowd, but Sanders said it spoke volumes about Clinton’s rural electorate.
“I very much enjoyed the people here,” he said. “I come from a very rural state as well. Small towns are not something new to us. It spoke volumes about the hard-working people who helped organize this event... I feel very comfortable in Iowa.”
Sanders was joined by U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, and state Sen. Jack Hatch, a Polk County candidate for governor. The event also featured appearances by a number of local incumbents and candidates, including state Rep. Mary Wolfe, Sheriff Rick Lincoln, Supervisor John Staszewski and Statehouse hopeful Jay Saxon. U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Bruce Braley sent video messages.
Many thanks went around to local organizers, including Clinton County Democratic Party Chairwoman Jean Pardee.
Part of the ceremony honored HOF inductees Doug Yegge and Donald and Marcia Flory. A bulk of the rest praised recent party accomplishments and discussed work left to be done.
Loebsack attended on the heels of Friday’s Des Moines Register article that reported his race against Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks is “safe.”
“This will be the third time this person runs against me,” Loebsack said. “I’m not so tired of it because we have less than six months. I’m going to get out there and work tirelessly, every single day.”
Loebsack called his opponent a “Tea Party candidate” similar to 2012 Vice President candidate Paul Ryan. This elicited boos from the left-wing charged audience.
Hatch, meanwhile, reported poll gains he’s made on incumbent Gov. Terry Branstad. With elections just six months away, Hatch said afterward this won’t be his last stop in Clinton County with plans for a stronger push in Eastern Iowa.
“I’ve been to (Clinton County) a couple of times,” he said. “It’s one I want to work very hard in, in an area we have to win. We’re not going to give anything up to the opposition. We’re going to take every county on the Mississippi (River) from Allamakee down to Lee County.”
After dinner, the attention turned to Sanders, where Iowans received a taste of the Senator’s impassioned New England intonation. His message criticized “billionaire Republicans” who are trying to “buy” the 2014 campaigns.
“Sadly, much of politics today is largely controlled by big-money interests, and that situation is getting worse,” Sanders said. “And as I think you all know, what is good for big money is not good for the middle class and working families in our country. Further, in terms of educating and organizing the American people for political change, corporately owned media and their political gossip and five-second soundbites are not going to work.”
By Sanders’ conclusion, the Goose Lake crowd chanted, “Run, Bernie, Run.” However, those chants are premature, according to the senator.
“It’s very early in the stage,” he said. “We have a very important election in November. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure Republicans don’t gain control of the Senate.
“That’s the election we’ve got to focus on right now; 2016 is a bit away.”