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Local Bernie Sanders supporters not giving up hope ahead of Washington caucuses

Mar 16, 2016, 1:12 PM | Updated: 1:29 pm

Many Bernie Sanders supporters realize their candidate may not make it to the White House, but that...

Many Bernie Sanders supporters realize their candidate may not make it to the White House, but that's not curbing their enthusiasm. (MyNorthwest)

(MyNorthwest)

Although Hillary Clinton took a big step forward in locking up the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday night, polls continue to show Bernie Sanders has an overwhelming lead in Washington state.

So why are so many in the Northwest feeling the Bern?

In an unofficial survey of KIRO Radio listeners, three words came up repeatedly: honesty, integrity, and independence.

Related: Medved says people love Trump until they imagine him as president

Longtime Democrat and college teacher David Spring of North Bend says Sanders is the first semi-mainstream candidate that actually speaks to the vast number of voters who consider themselves more independent than beholden to either party, and feel let down by both sides of the aisle.

“Independents now outnumber &#8221 in our state and the nation &#8221 both the Republicans and Democrats by a wide margin,” said Spring, who helped found an all-volunteer Sanders support group unaffiliated with the official campaign.

“Bernie has been Independent … for the past 20 years, Spring said. “He’s really just been an issues-based person. So Independents see that they have a candidate.”

Chris Force is a longtime Seattle IT professional and self-employed businessman. He says he wasn’t particularly engaged in politics until about a year ago, but the father of two teens has grown increasingly worried about the lack of opportunities for the shrinking middle class, especially his kids.

Sanders message resonated with him.

“It comes down to what’s the system we have versus what’s the system we want,” Force said. “I feel like the income gap is the biggest issue that our country has right now.”

Force and a number of others also mentioned the influence of money on politics. Much like Donald Trump’s message, people find Sanders appealing because he doesn’t seem beholden to the Koch brothers or some large corporate interests.

“Hillary goes wherever the money goes,” Force said. “She’s getting money from the system the way it exists. And that system is making our country a worse place.”

When Sanders packed University of Washington’s Alaska Airlines Arena last year, it wasn’t a fluke. The state with the largest number of donors is Washington state.

Spring says he’s surprised when he goes to events how they aren’t just far left Kshama Sawant socialists, but span the political and age spectrum.

He is a much more traditional Democrat from North Bend who voted for President Obama the last two elections, and in the past, likely would have voted for Hillary Clinton.

“I don’t think Bernie speaks in political jargon. He makes his points with honesty and I sense he is genuine,” said Seattle-native Gail Irving.

“I’m sad that he waited so long to run,” Irving said. “Our country needs a change that is uplifting and hopeful. I thought Obama could bring it, but I just didn’t realize there was so much deep seeded hate. I love this guy.”

Realistically, it’s unlikely Sanders can win the Democratic nomination. But the fact he’s still even in the game is energizing many who usually just check out or never get involved in the first place.

But Force says even if Clinton gets the nomination, he’s thrilled to see her moving more to issues espoused by Sanders.

“It was just a matter of ‘alright, I’m going to hold my nose and vote whoever the Democrat is because they won’t be as bad as the Republicans.’ But things have changed,” Force said.

Related: Ross says Trump is a strong candidate no matter how much you disagree

While Sanders has not announced any Washington state campaign appearances ahead of the March 26 caucuses, he’ll likely make at least one big speech that’s sure to draw a full house like the one at UW, Spring said.

Many Sanders supporters say they’ll be out in force across the state for the Democratic caucuses, many of them first-time caucus-goers and voters.

“Our whole family is preparing to caucus,” Force said.

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