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Sen. Sanders Launches Long-Shot Presidential Campaign In Vermont


Next, we'll consider whether a socialist can go mainstream in America. That's what self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders is trying to pull off. Yesterday, he officially launched his presidential campaign in Burlington, Vt., the city where he was mayor decades ago. NPR's Ailsa Chang was there.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: If you didn't know better and walked by Lake Champlain yesterday afternoon, you might have thought the guy throwing the party just wanted America to have a really good time.


CHANG: Bernie lovers poured across the grass in Burlington, Vt., dancing to a Cajun band called Mango Jam. They were licking spoonfuls of free Ben & Jerry's ice cream and sporting T-shirts that read, join the political revolution.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Bernie. Bernie. Bernie. Bernie. Bernie.

CHANG: But this wasn't just a party. Even choosing the Waterfront Park as the location was a pointed reminder. This was the park Sanders fought for as mayor to claim the Waterfront for the people rather than the developers.

BERNIE SANDERS: This is an emotional day for me.

CHANG: And so when the 73-year-old took the stage, the laughing and dancing had long stopped. Everyone knew what was coming - the same grave message Sanders has been delivering for almost 40 years.

SANDERS: To the billionaire class, I say that your greed has got to end. You cannot take advantage of all of the benefits of America if you refuse to accept your responsibilities.


CHANG: He pledged to create a national jobs program. He vowed to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, break up big banks and appoint to the Supreme Court only justices who promised to overturn Citizens United. That's the ruling that allows unlimited contributions from unions and corporations.

SANDERS: The American political system has been totally corrupted, and the foundations of American democracy are now being undermined.

CHANG: Sanders, of course, is a long shot. He drags way behind Hillary Clinton in the polls, but his supporters say this is the guy who comes from behind and surprises you. Chuck Butler was an aide to one of the two men who trounced Sanders when he tried twice to become governor.

CHUCK BUTLER: He's against the 1 percent, and that's about what he got when he ran for governor of Vermont, one of the smallest states in the United States. Think about it.

CHANG: Now Sanders wins nearly three-quarters of the vote in Vermont. And he wants to campaign the same way he won over this state - door-to-door, town hall meeting after town hall meeting. This is how people got to know him and even fall in love with him, like Sally Gratton back when she was a teenager. She's 53 now.

SALLY GRATTON: This will be the first time in my life that I've voted for somebody that I'm in love with. I love the man. He's awesome. He's in my heart, and I want him to win so this whole world can be beautiful.

CHANG: Despite Sanders' rock-star status in Burlington, there are certainly people in town who would prefer Clinton, like Michael Gorges, a real estate manager who's bothered by Sanders' confrontational style.

MICHAEL GORGES: That can cut both ways. If folks end up thinking that you're going to be unbending, I think it can be an obstacle.

CHANG: Yesterday, Sanders barely acknowledged Clinton, who is his biggest obstacle. If the Vermont senator hopes to beat her, he's going to have to do well in the state next door - New Hampshire, a place that's something of a political home turf for the Clintons. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, Burlington, Vt. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.