- The Washington Times - Monday, June 8, 2015

Sen. Bernard Sanders’ strong second-place showing in Wisconsin Democrats’ presidential straw poll has party leaders warning Hillary Rodham Clinton that she could have a real primary race on her hands.

Mrs. Clinton, who is supposed to be the party’s all-but-inevitable presidential nominee, barely beat Mr. Sanders in the balloting this past weekend, garnering 252 votes to his 208, or 49 percent to 41 percent.

“By golly, I think Clinton has got to pay attention to who’s out there,” said Gerry Lisi, Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman for Barron County. “I know Clinton is listening, and I’m sure this will have an effect.”

Mr. Lisi attended the straw poll at the Wisconsin Democratic Party’s 2015 convention at the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino in Milwaukee. He did not cast a vote in the contest, but he said he understands why fellow Democrats threw their support behind Mr. Sanders, an avowed socialist from Vermont.

“It would be crazy to commit ourselves too early [to Mrs. Clinton],” he said. “This is not a time to push anybody out of the dialogue.”

A longtime centrist, Mrs. Clinton has jogged to the left this year to satisfy the party’s liberal base.

Mrs. Clinton has already adopted many of Mr. Sanders’ liberal positions, including announcing support Sunday for raising the federal minimum wage to a $15 per hour “living wage.” She previously called for a higher minimum wage but never set it at the $15 mark favored by Mr. Sanders, unions and liberal activists.

Mrs. Clinton declared herself the living-wage candidate when she spoke by telephone to a convention of about 1,300 fast-food workers in Detroit.

“I want to be your champion. I want to fight [for] you every day,” she said. “No one who works an honest job in America should have to live in poverty.”

Still, Mr. Sanders’ campaign platform reads like a wish list of liberal activists: break up Wall Street banks, expand Social Security, crack down on unaccounted money in political campaigns and fight climate change.

Mrs. Clinton mostly has talked in general terms about fighting income inequality but hasn’t delved into details. Her campaign said she will roll out a set of policy proposals following her first major campaign rally Saturday in New York City.

The straw poll followed a CNN/ORC survey last week that showed a dip in Mrs. Clinton’s numbers after weeks of news reports that raised doubts about her ethical standards.

The favorability rating for the former first lady, senator and secretary of state fell to 46 percent from 53 percent in March, with 50 percent of Americans viewing her unfavorably.

It was her lowest score in that survey in 14 years.

The Clinton campaign can take comfort in knowing the Wisconsin straw poll does not reflect the choice of an average Democratic voter. The activists who participate in straw polls tend to represent the party’s far-left wing, while primary voters would be less adherent to the liberal agenda.

Nevertheless, the straw poll sent Mrs. Clinton a clear message that she has to move further left, said Mary Arnold, the Wisconsin State Democratic Party chairwoman for Columbia County.

“I feel very comfortable with having a primary. I think primaries are good things,” she said. “You learn a lot about each candidate, and you don’t have the feeling [that] somebody has been anointed and they are just gong to walk away with a nomination.”

Mrs. Arnold said that she heard straw poll voters raising concerns about Mrs. Clinton being “too middle-of-the-road” and balking about her being the heir to a political dynasty.

The Clinton campaign did not respond to questions about the straw poll.

Mrs. Clinton holds a commanding lead, topping the competition by 40 points or more among Democrats in national surveys and polls in early-voting states.

A Real Clear Politics average of recent national polls showed Mrs. Clinton with 57 percent, followed by Mr. Sanders and Vice President Joseph R. Biden with 11 percent each, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley with 2 percent, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb with 1 percent and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee with less than 1 percent.

In the straw poll, Mr. Biden and Mr. O’Malley both received 3 percent support.

Sanders campaign spokesman Michael Briggs said the campaign staff did not make an effort to influence the straw poll and were taken aback by the outcome.

“It’s a sign, a very important sign, that there is a lot of interest out there around the country in the kinds of things Bernie is talking about — income inequality and the collapse of the middle class and what to do about those things,” he said. “It is also showing up in the huge turnout at his town [hall] meetings all over the country.”

Though still considered a long shot campaign, Mr. Sanders is drawing overflow crowds at his town hall-style events in Iowa and New Hampshire.

In Minneapolis last week, an estimated 4,000 people showed up at a community center to hear Mr. Sanders’ message. Many listened from outside because the hall was full.

Mr. Briggs said that part of the reason Mr. Sanders’ message is resonating with voters is because the senator is an authentic progressive champion.

“He has a long, long record of actually passing legislation of progressive ideas. It’s not just talk with him,” Mr. Briggs said.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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