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Bernie Sanders Has Momentum Riding On Iowa's Caucuses


There is a lot on the line in Iowa for Bernie Sanders. If the senator from Vermont wins the caucuses next Monday, he'll gain momentum that could transform the Democratic race for president. If Hillary Clinton wins, her once seemingly-inevitable campaign could start looking that way again. NPR's Tamara Keith is on the road in Iowa, and brings us this report on the Sanders campaign.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Just as it became clear Bernie Sanders had a real shot at winning Iowa, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton turned up her criticism, arguing Sanders has big ideas, but they're not based in political reality. The Washington Post editorial board said simply Sanders is selling fiction. But Sanders told supporters in Fairfield, Iowa, he doesn't buy it.


BERNIE SANDERS: Now, I know I'm criticized every day for thinking too big that the United States of America can do all of these things - provide education to our kids, provide healthcare to all people, end this disgraceful level of income and wealth inequality.

KEITH: Sanders drew a crowd of 900 people in a town of only about 9,000. Several said he was getting them engaged in politics in a way they haven't been before. And if they show up - if turnout is strong - then Sanders says he will win.

REBECCA HAVEN: (Singing) Oh, we need a human revolution. The '60s just were not good enough.

KEITH: Rebecca Haven sat outside of the event performing a song that echoed many of the themes in Sanders' speeches. She's planning to caucus for the first time.

HAVEN: You know, politics is politics, so this is first guy where I'm like, oh, my gosh. He's not a politician. He's a human.

KEITH: A human who, as the campaign heats up, looks a lot more like any other politician who's been in Congress for 26 years and is running for president. He's doing interviews from a charter jet and traversing Iowa in a big campaign bus. Sanders has begun sounding the part a bit more, too, drawing contrasts with Clinton as he did last night at a rally in Burlington, Iowa.


SANDERS: Check the record. Find out where my opponent was on all of these issues. It is great to be against the war after you vote for the war. It is great to be for gay rights after you insult the entire gay community by supporting DOMA.

KEITH: DOMA is the Defense of Marriage Ac, the same-sex marriage ban Bill Clinton signed into law. The Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 2013. Sanders listed other positions he held that went against the grain at the time and where Hillary Clinton agreed with the consensus.


SANDERS: What leadership means is not simply following the majority. It means having the guts at certain moments to say, you know what, I don't care what the Washington Post editorial board has to say.

KEITH: Afterward, I asked supporter Rebecca Mueller what she thinks of these newly-sharpened contrasts.

REBECCA MUELLER: I know you're asking, is he going negative?

KEITH: Yeah, essentially.

But Mueller says what Sanders is doing isn't really going negative.

MUELLER: Drawing those contrasts to Hillary when she's reporting this leadership - I'd like a leader that takes us in a direction worth following. So if he wants to draw those differences out, that's great with me.

KEITH: Put another way, if Sanders needs to go a little negative, his supporters seem quite willing to stay with him. Tamara Keith, NPR News, West Des Moines, Iowa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.