MANCHESTER, N.H. — Sen. Bernie Sanders on Saturday gave a version of the same speech about the nation’s struggling middle class and greedy billionaires that he has delivered for the past 30 years. But two days into his long-shot bid for the presidency, the oft-repeated words amounted to something new: a barometer of frustration on the liberal left that could begin to reshape the Democratic primary.
With almost 100 people packed into the house of an acupuncturist here and dozens more craning to listen from outside, Sanders (I-Vt.) had a growing audience. And the warm reception he received suggested in the nation’s first presidential primary state there is room alongside front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton for Sanders’s rumpled and irreverent attacks on the country’s political establishment.
“My intention in this campaign,” the senator began, “is to talk about the real issues impacting working people throughout New Hampshire, Vermont and America.” To growing rounds of applause, Sanders ticked off a list of stagnating wages, dwindling family savings and out-of-reach college costs. They are all getting worse, Sanders said, because the political system in Washington is rigged to send an unfair share to the rich.
Speaking to a convention of labor leaders hours later on a mountaintop, Sanders drew more applause. He blasted a proposed trade pact with Pacific Rim countries backed by President Obama and that Clinton first negotiated as secretary of state as dangerous to what U.S. manufacturing jobs remain.
“Pushed by corporate America, pushed by Wall Street . . . the function of these trade agreements is to allow companies in America to shut down here, move to low-wage countries abroad and bring their products back to America,” Sanders said. “Enough is enough. We do not need another disastrous trade policy.”
As dozens pushed in for pictures with him afterward, the scenes followed an announcement by Sanders’s campaign on Friday that in the first 24 hours after he launched his candidacy, he raised $1.5 million: a grass-roots surge from 35,000 online donors who gave an average of $43.54 apiece. On Saturday, his campaign said that the two-day tally topped $2.1 million and that most had signed up to continue contributing in monthly installments. A larger group of 145,000 people had also signed up online to volunteer, the campaign said.
The first day in New Hampshire also brought a new indication of Sanders’s seriousness about the race. Congress’s longest-serving independent and a self-described socialist, Sanders backtracked just two days after announcing his candidacy to say that he would abandon the “I” beside his name and register as a Democrat if needed to compete in the party’s primary in all 50 states.
Outside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, the senator rejected any suggestion that he register as a Democrat. “No,” Sanders said, “I’m an independent.” But a day later, questions surfaced in New Hampshire about whether he would be eligible. The Granite State requires candidates to fill out a form declaring party registration.
“We’re going to fulfill all the rules,” Sanders said, “I made the decision that the best way to be effective in this campaign, the best way to win was to do it through the Democratic primary process. We will meet all of the requirements of all of the states, including New Hampshire,” he said.
In almost every way, Sanders’s first day on the trail contrasted sharply with Clinton’s first trip to the state last month. Clinton held a series of small and often scripted events, one a roundtable in a quiet warehouse staged with a table and chairs and a place for reporters to watch.
Before Sanders arrived, it was unclear how he would reach a music stand set up as a lectern in a corner of the living room. Elizabeth Ropp, wearing a People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture T-shirt, took the microphone to ask anyone feeling claustrophobic to step outside “if they need air.”
Without Sanders having a paid campaign staffer yet in New Hampshire, or even a campaign office in Vermont, Ropp said she got a call asking to host earlier in the week “from a friend of a friend” who had started volunteering for the campaign.
Ropp introduced Sanders as the candidate of the “12-hour filibuster and the $12 haircut,” referring to his opposition to tax cuts during Obama’s first term, and his frizzy white hair.
Sanders took the microphone, unfolded notes scratched on a piece of yellow legal paper and said he’s the one with ideas to win.
He said he wants a $1 trillion infrastructure campaign to create 13 million jobs. He said he will soon introduce legislation in the Senate for a $70 billion plan to make public colleges and universities tuition-free. The plan could be funded, he said, by eliminating tax loopholes that allow companies to keep profits overseas. And he said the nation needs to move toward a single-payer Medicare system for health care and increase Social Security benefits.
“Our job is to think big, not small,” Sanders said. “Our job is to say that in the wealthiest country in the history of the world . . . that we can create a nation in which every person has health care as a right . . . and can get a higher education,” he said.
“We can create a nation where anybody who wants to can run for office, even if they are not a billionaire,” Sanders said. After more photos, he piled into a dented Subaru with three aides and drove away.
Many in both audiences were graying. There was also a smattering of teens and 20-somethings at each event.
“This is someone who could actually keep a lot of young people like me in the fold” of the Democratic Party, said Chace Joe Jackson, 23. “Our generation just isn’t going to have anything like the world that came before us and actually enjoyed the American middle class for what it was.”
Jackson said he has been disappointed by Obama and thinks of Clinton as a “right-leaning, big-business Democrat. . . . When they become president, they all give in to the status quo. You know that’s not what Bernie Sanders is going to do.”