Sanders tries to attract Independents to Obama campaign

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(Host) Senator Bernie Sanders has thrown himself into the campaign for president.

Even though he was elected as an independent, Sanders is in Denver this week to attend the Democratic National Convention.

As VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, Sanders is an enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama.

(Sneyd) For as long as he’s been in politics, Bernie Sanders has been a critic of the Republicans and the Democrats.

But that hasn’t kept him away from Denver, the Democrats’ convention city.

(Sanders) "I wanted to stress to independents, not just here about around the country that I think, if they take a hard look at the issues facing the American people there’s no question that Obama is far the superior candidate and I think ultimately this election will be decided by independents. So that’s an appeal I want to make as well.”

(Sneyd) Sanders doesn’t have an official role at the Democrats’ nominating convention. He’s not a delegate and he won’t speak from the convention podium.

He has been in the convention center to watch some of the proceedings. He’s made the rounds of parties and rallies. He’s made the case for Barack Obama and explained why independents shouldn’t support John McCain.

Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis says there’s another key audience for Sanders’ message.

(Davis) "There may be some Democrats from some states who think Bernie Sanders is too far to the left. But clearly Bernie Sanders’ message is addressed more to people who consider themselves progressives, people who in previous election cycles for example, some of them might have voted for Ralph Nader. And Bernie Sanders wants to make the argument that they should stay with the major party candidate and vote for Barack Obama this year.”

(Sneyd) Sanders says that is his aim. He sees big stakes in the 2008 election because he equates John McCain with President Bush.

(Sanders) "From the depth of my heart what I am telling you is I just don’t know how this country is going to survive four more years of Bush’s policies and I will do everything I can to see that does not happen.”

(Sneyd) Sanders still describes himself as a progressive socialist. And American political party conventions are lavish affairs, largely funded by the corporate money that Sanders says he loathes.

He says what he sees all around him in Denver – and what the Republicans will do in St. Paul next week – illustrate the problem.

(Sanders) "Big money has just an overpowering influence on the political process. And, trust me, it certainly impacts the Democratic Party. I think it impacts the Republican Party even more.”

(Sneyd) So Sanders won’t be joining the Democratic Party, because he’s got a list of policy differences with the Democrats and Senator Obama.

He’s also got differences with the Republicans and Senator McCain. But it’s a much longer list.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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