There’s no place like home, as Bernie Sanders learned Tuesday evening. The Vermont senator returned to the Green Mountains for Super Tuesday – and the same Vermonters who sent him to Congress gave him a lopsided win in this state’s presidential primary.
Sanders also won Colorado, Oklahoma and Minnesota but didn’t fare as well in other states that held votes on Tuesday. Sanders and his supporters in Vermont remain convinced that the presidential nomination is in reach.
Jessica Fecteau strained to keep eyes on her two kids as they navigated the mass of humanity inside the Champlain Valley Expo Tuesday evening. Like many of the Vermonters packed into the venue to see Sanders speak, the Huntington resident has been voting for Sanders since his days as mayor of Burlington.
Fecteau said his homecoming did not disappoint.
“It’s incredible,” she said. “We’ve been talking about wanting to come to this rally all day long. And we went skiing first and then voted and then came here, so it’s been an exciting day for everybody.”
Fecteau isn’t the only Vermonter who loves Bernie, as election results and recent polls can attest to. And on Tuesday night, when he took to an elevated stage in front of thousands of cheering fans, Sanders let them know he loves them back.
“You know, I have been all over this country, but the truth is, it is … great to come home and see all my friends,” Sanders said.
Fans of Hillary Clinton didn’t have as much to cheer about in Vermont – the former Secretary of State trailed Sanders by more than 70 points on Tuesday night. But at an election-night watch party for Clinton supporters at a home in Burlington’s South End, revelers cheered as networks declared her the winner in Virginia and Georgia.
Nate Orshan hosted the bash. He says it’s the first time in his life he hasn’t voted for Bernie.
“I think Hillary is the stronger candidate, I think for a lot of reasons,” Orshan says. “I could probably drone on for a long time. But suffice it to say, it’s important to me to try to throw support for Hillary even though I’m in the middle of Bernie country.”
Clinton may have won a majority of the more than 800 delegates up for grabs Tuesday. But Sanders told supporters not to let news of his defeats in other states – or pundits’ analyses of them – shake their confidence in the strength of his candidacy. And he reiterated earlier in the day that he would stay in the race until the nominating convention in Philadelphia at the end of July.
“Let me assure you that we are going to take our fight for economic justice, for social justice, for environmental sanity, for a world of peace, to every one of those states,” Sanders said.
Ken Rudin is a veteran political journalist who hosts a weekly podcast called the Political Junkie. He says picking up delegates with even close second-place finishes isn’t ultimately a winning proposition for Sanders.
“The only way to surpass Hillary Clinton with the delegates is to surpass Hillary Clinton, and he’s going to have to start winning soon,” Rudin said in a phone interview late Tuesday night.
Rudin says that in politics, perception quickly becomes reality. And he says that Sanders’ performance on Super Tuesday could complicate that perception in the next round of primary votes.
“If you have a very bad Super Tuesday – or should I say a not so Super Tuesday – then where do you win next?” Rudin says. “And I guess every other subsequent defeat might be magnified even further.”
But for a few minutes, at least, after Sanders concluded his prepared remarks in Essex Junction, the issue of delegates and political horse races seemed far from everyone’s mind.
Local musicians who’d warmed up the crowd earlier returned to the stage. Sanders and his wife, Jane, joined them for a rendition of Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.”
Sanders stood between local singers Kat Wright and Nicole Nelson, his arms wrapped around each of their shoulders. He smiled and he sang and he swayed to the beat.
Burlington resident Matt Scheffler says he only began following politics closely when Sanders entered the race. He says he hopes Sanders sees it through to the end.
“For the first time ever I feel maybe, maybe by coming out here, he feels like he’s not fighting alone anymore, that we’re right here behind him.”
Annie Russell contributed reporting to this story.