IOWA CITY, IOWA — Khadidja Elkeurti is a liberal 17-year-old who thinks America “deserves” its first female president.
She is volunteering for Bernie Sanders.
Hillary Clinton, Elkeurti said in Iowa on Saturday, is a flip-flopper who voted for the invasion of Iraq and seems to be hankering for more war. Clinton, she added, wouldn’t fight for the middle class like Sanders would.
“I’d rather have a president that stands up for all women than be a woman,” Elkeurti said. “I love politics, and maybe one day I’ll become the next president of the United States. And it’s not Hillary Clinton that gives me that inspiration, it’s Bernie Sanders.”
She was standing in a cavernous sports facility at the University of Iowa. Another massive Sanders crowd had just packed the place, 5,000 people roaring for his closing call to “join the political revolution.”
This is not yet a revolution. It is a movement big enough to give Clinton another scare. Eight years after her loss to hip young Barack Obama, the 68-year-old is losing young people, even young women, to a cranky older man.
Sanders, 74, is within striking distance of a monumental victory. Heading into the Iowa caucuses on Monday night, the Independent senator from Vermont is trailing Clinton by just three points. Far too close for her comfort: Obama’s Iowa triumph set him on an unstoppable sprint to the Democratic nomination.
Sanders is in tough no matter what happens here. So far, his revolutionary army is overwhelmingly white. After Iowa and New Hampshire, the race moves to diverse states like Nevada and South Carolina.
But an early Sanders win would signal to voters elsewhere that he is for real, perhaps prompting some of them to give him a second — or first — look. He will have the money to stick around for the long haul: his campaign announced Sunday that it raised an astonishing $20 million in January, 99.9 per cent from small donors who can give again.
Some of his fans are hopeful millennials. Some of them are like him: fed-up white men. Like Republican Donald Trump, Sanders has excited voters who loathe everything about the political system. Save for the bigotry, they are sometimes indistinguishable from Trump supporters.
Standing among the students was 74-year-old retired maintenance worker Dick Carter, who voted for independent candidate Ross Perot in 1992. He distrusts the media, opposes free trade, thinks America should stop spending money to “prop up other countries.” Sanders, he said, is the rare “fair and honest politician.”
Sanders has tamed his unruly white hair as he has risen to contention. His message is the same as ever: the rich have corrupted the political and economic systems, the little guy is getting hosed by these millionaires and billionaires, “enough is enough.”
“Are you guys ready for a radical idea?” he asked Saturday.
“Yeah!” the students shouted.
“Together,” he said, “we are going to create an economy that works for all of us and not just the 1 per cent.”
His ironic use of “radical” serves a specific purpose. A self-described “democratic socialist,” he is trying to make the case that there is nothing extreme about his revolution. Clinton is depicting him as a pie-in-the-sky naïf, running Iowa ads that say his ideas “sound good on paper but will never make it in the real world.”
To the students in Iowa City, they simply sounded good. They bellowed their approval when he promised Canada-style universal health care and federal approval of marijuana and an end to institutional racism. Then the old lefty joined the band Vampire Weekend in a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s 1940s song “This Land Is Your Land,” and the kids sang along, if a bit haltingly.