- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2015

The liberal agenda that Sen. Bernard Sanders’ presidential run helped push to the forefront has proved popular with Democratic voters even in the old farm towns of Iowa, where party officials say the pressure is increasing on Hillary Rodham Clinton to move left to compete in the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Mr. Sanders, a Vermont independent who proudly calls himself a socialist, entered the race for the Democratic nomination last week championing the agenda of the party’s liberal activists: expand Social Security benefits, break up Wall Street banks, limit money in political campaigns, provide free college tuition and raise the minimum wage to a $15 “living wage.”

He insisted that those were “the issues that are on the hearts and minds of the American people.”

Iowa party officials closest to Democratic caucusgoers agreed.

“The people here associated with the Democratic Party are all for it — for expanding Social Security, coming down on Wall Street, green energy. All of that. It’s just very much what we believe in,” said James Berge, Iowa Democratic Party chairman for Worth County, a rural community of fading farm towns on the state’s border with Minnesota.

He said the county’s Democratic caucusgoers are not just supportive of Mr. Sanders’ agenda but are enthusiastic about it, especially his focus on stopping the unlimited political spending by corporations and unions that was unleashed by the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court in January 2010.

“Campaign finance reform is a big thing,” said Mr. Berge. “Here we just call it a Koch problem because the Koch brothers are affecting elections so much. With all the money that’s being poured into it, it’s disenfranchising some of the voters.”

But would he back Mr. Sanders over Mrs. Clinton in the caucuses?

“You betcha,” said Mr. Berge. “Everybody is just smiling from ear to ear about Bernie Sanders [running]. The only way they could smile more would be if it was Elizabeth Warren who got in there.”

He echoed the sentiment of liberal activists who continue to call for Mrs. Warren, Massachusetts Democrat and liberal firebrand, to challenge Mrs. Clinton for the nomination.

Mrs. Warren repeatedly has said she is not running.

Still, the widespread appeal of the liberal agenda underscores the difficulty facing Mrs. Clinton, who has a long record as first lady, senator and secretary of state when she often took centrist positions and endorsed policies that have become anathema to the party’s liberal base, such as her support of the North American Free Trade Agreement and her vote for the Iraq War.

She has said that she was wrong on both NAFTA and the Iraq War, but she hasn’t taken firm stances on related contemporary issues such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal being negotiated by the Obama administration.

Mrs. Clinton, who entered the race three weeks ago as the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination, has hesitated to embrace all the left’s demands. Her first campaign stops in Iowa were staged as a “listening tour,” where she talked broadly about income inequality and the need for more opportunities for job training or college but didn’t roll out any policy proposals.

Her campaign maintains that Mrs. Clinton is not taking for granted that she will win the nomination and will not repeat the mistakes of 2008, when her third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses behind Barack Obama and John Edwards set off a grueling primary contest that she ultimately lost to Mr. Obama.

Few consider Mr. Sanders a real threat to Mrs. Clinton. She remains the undisputed front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and captures 60 percent of the vote in the Real Clear Politics average of recent Iowa polls.

The polling average showed Mrs. Warren trailing with 17 percent, followed by Vice President Joseph R. Biden at 8 percent, Mr. Sanders at 7 percent, and former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley at about 2 percent each.

Nevertheless, party insiders said Mrs. Clinton will have to adopt much of Mr. Sanders’ agenda.

“I can’t believe that those aren’t the positions for any of the candidates who are Democratic, because those are Democratic positions,” said Pat Brockett, former Democratic Party chairwoman in Winneshiek County.

She said Democratic voters in the largely rural and agricultural county in northeast Iowa are not more conservative or centrist in their politics.

“There are a lot of people up here who would describe themselves as progressive. We’re a very progressive county up here more to the left, more liberal,” sad Ms. Brockett, noting that climate change, Social Security and the minimum wage are top issues for county Democrats.

“We have a lot of houses and business here with solar panels on them, so we are very into energy issues,” she said.

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

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