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After Nevada, Bernie Sanders Supporters Haven't Lost Faith

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 22/02/2016 Eliot Nelson

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- One day after losing the Nevada caucuses to Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sounded like a candidate who, well, hadn't.

"We are gaining momentum," Sanders boasted during a rally in Greenville on Saturday. "This campaign is gaining momentum because we are listening to the American people and we are listening in a way that other campaigns don't."

Most elections contain their fair share of denial, but even by that standard, 2016 has been the "LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!" primary, with candidates from both parties cupping their proverbial ears, falling to the proverbial carpet and tucking their proverbial bodies into the fetal position, pretending that everything is hunky-dory.

Ted Cruz had his legs cut out from under him when he finished third in South Carolina, with just enough of his evangelical supporters abandoning him for Donald Trump and Marco Rubio to finish a disappointing third -- yet he appeared as confident as ever, saying his campaign "defied the pundits and produced extraordinary results."  

Marco Rubio has finished third, fifth and second in the GOP's first three primaries, respectively -- a record that wouldn't even land him in the NFL playoffs -- and yet he still sounds as triumphant in his election night rallies as someone accepting their party's nomination. "Tonight here in South Carolina, the message is pretty clear," he said Saturday night, without a trace of irony.

And when it comes to Donald Trump, most of the Republican campaign's trips along the Kübler-Ross model of grief seems to have stalled on "denial." 

Yet the revolution was alive and well in Greenville on Sunday afternoon. The crowd was bursting with lefty millennial enthusiasm: sleeve tats, pixie cuts and other hipster accoutrements abounded. There were plenty of older fellow travelers, equally intoxicated by Sanders' message of economic fairness and social justice. Chants of "Feel the Bern!" and "BERN-IE, BERN-IE" punctuated the din of the arena in the hours leading up to Sanders' speech.

Listening to the 74-year-old native Brooklynite, it was clear that he and his supporters viewed any talk of lost momentum as utter bupkis .

"This is a campaign that has momentum," said the independent democratic-socialist-turned-just-plain-Democrat. "If you want a candidate who is going to beat Donald Trump, you're looking at him!"

"Nothing would give me greater pleasure!" he added. 

The estimated 5,000 exuberant attendees in the Bon Secours Wellness Arena were digging it.

"Are you ready for a radical idea?" Sanders asked the arena.


Not exactly a Hillary crowd.

Now, a loss by no means portends doom for a presidential candidate, and Sanders supporters still feel confident about his momentum despite Nevada and his South Carolina poll numbers, which have him trailing by 15 percent, according to the HuffPost Pollster average. Supporters point to the upward trends of Sanders' poll numbers in New Hampshire and Nevada and the closing gap between him and Hillary Clinton nationally.

"He's not going to win South Carolina, we know that, but it doesn't change how I believe he'll do on Super Tuesday," said Stuart Ruffner, 42, of Greenville. "He's got some momentum behind him and he's so much closer than anyone thought he would be."

Added Randall Snyder, 49, of Flag Pond, Tennessee, "He's gaining support as more and more people get to know him. This is only the third state."

This is only the third state. Randall Snyder, Sanders supporter

"Bernie needs to stay on social media!" insisted Roberta Grepaly, a retiree living in South Carolina and a self-described "aging California hippie." "That's his best hope!"

Even if South Carolina is out of reach for Sanders, a better-than-expected showing would really help his much-ballyhooed momentum. As such, the campaign is making a strong effort to reach out to African Americans, who make up roughly 50 percent of the state's Democratic electorate. Sanders discussed a number of issues of import to that community, decrying mass incarceration, high levels of youth employment and a criminal justice system he called "broken." In addition, he was preceded on stage by Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, and actor and progressive activist Danny Glover.

"Racism and bigotry is not what this country is supposed to be about," said Sanders.

Whatever the fallout from Sanders' Nevada loss, his base appears to be keeping the faith with his strategy.

"I think Bernie is doing everything he can," said Whitney Frye, a younger attendee.

Added Milton Menjivar, 21, of eastern Tennessee, "Bernie is calculating it just right."

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