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In Tampa, the Bernie Sanders campaign asks Florida supporters to help the effort in South Carolina

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The Bernie Sanders candidacy has been built to be fueled by momentum. In September, top campaign strategists Jeff Weaver and Ted Devine admitted that the Vermont independent Senator probably must win Iowa or New Hampshire to have any chance at knocking off Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president.

What happens after that? Well, then it’s on to South Carolina, a place where the Sanders campaign acknowledges they face a formidable deficit in the polls against the former first lady and secretary of state (Polls shows Clinton leading Sanders there by an average of nearly 50 percentage points).

So in his appearance before approximately 250 people at the Letter Carriers Union Hall in Tampa on Saturday afternoon, Sanders campaign coordinator Corbin Trent told those who said they wanted to volunteer with the campaign that their job would be to call South Democratic voters and persuade them to vote for Bernie in that state’s primary election on February 27.

“What we’re asking Floridians is to create a virtual campaign headquarters at their home,” he said, and by the end of the day, 36 people had agreed to host a phone banking event at their home.

Tampa was the fourth of five stops that Trent made in Florida to last week to channel the people power fueling the Sanders campaign. His last stop was in Jacksonville on Sunday.

Nearly 15,000 people have offered to volunteer for Sanders in Florida, and Trent said that he was hoping to get approximately 2,000 to begin calling South Carolina Democrats. “If we win in Iowa and New Hampshire,” he said, “We’re going to get a lot of momentum. We’ll see more establishment people move in our direction, more super delegates. That’s our primary focus right now.”

That focus is not on Florida, which doesn’t vote until March 15, after some 20 other states will already have cast votes. Trent said before the meeting that he had no idea if and when the campaign would send the campaign down to Florida.

Shortly after the meeting kicked off, Trent asked those in the audience to take a couple of minutes to talk to a stranger sitting near them and explain why they had attended and what Bernie Sanders meant to them. Then he asked a few to speak to the entire crowd about why they were there.

“To me, Bernie Sanders gives me something to live for,” said one unidentified woman who said that was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2014, and said that Sanders integrity was what attracted her to his campaign. “When I was going through the chemo and radiation it was tough, but I bounced back and one reason why I believe what contributed to the cancer I got was stress, because I was working a ton of hours, and so I see what he’s doing in terms of wanting to raise the minimum wage, and getting single payer health care.”

Earlier this reporter spoke to several people in attendance to ask why they were attracted to Sanders.

“He’s really representing the average American, and the reason why people are hurting financially he’s got it down pat,” said Longboat Key resident Doreen Duponti, who said that she does “honk and waves” for Sanders outside of events in Sarasota. “Which is that the people are crooked at the top and they have the laws rigged in their favor, and nobody else is talking about it like he is.”

Tampa resident Jim Shirk says that Sanders is addressing the fact that the country has been turned into a “oligarchy,” and it needs a political revolution.

“The bulk of the Democratic Party is entrenched in the current paradigm of pay your money and get your rewards, and as long as money speaks louder than people do, we’re not going to become the democracy that we should be,” he said, adding that he’s giving $25 a month to the Sanders campaign as long as it lasts.

Sanders is being fueled by small dollar contributors like Shirk.

For the third quarter of this year, almost three quarters of his $26 million that he raised came from contributions donors giving $200 or less. In comparison, only about 17 percent of Clinton’s were from small donors.

“He’s the best candidate running right now,” declared St. Pete architect Gregory Glenn, who says he believe that Sanders has a solid chance to knock off Clinton. “There’s people that see her as part of the establishment, obviously, and the mood in the country right now is anti-establishment, he’s got that going for him. He’s at the right time and the right place.”

Glenn notes that Clinton has moved to the left on certain issue because of Sanders (and Elizabeth Warren’s) popularity with the base, and says “she’s prone to pandering to wherever the wind blows.”

A Puerto Rican native and current Ybor City resident who only wanted to be identified as Frank said that he considers himself “more left leaning than the Democratic Party,” and said that was one reason why Sanders was a “great figure to look up to.”

But he said he thought it would be hard for him to capture the nomination. “I think he made a great push at it this year, and I would really like to see him run in the future if he doesn’t get this one, but he is an older man,” he said, referring to the fact that Sanders is 74.

Local activist Mike Fox referred to Clinton’s fundraiser last week at Alex Sink‘s home, and challenged the audience to try to match those contributions.

Acting somewhat like a crazed announcer at an auction, the audience was ready to be asked to contribute.

“There’s $20,” Fox barked, before turning to the other side of the crowd. “How much! That’s $50. That’s what I’m talking about. $100. Who else? $20. There’s a $100 right there. Thank you, brother!” By the end of the session, organizers say over $3,000 was collected for the campaign.

In speeches over the weekend, Sanders said that the powers that be are using ISIS to distract voters away from America’s systemic problems.

“‘We don’t have to worry about old people not having enough to eat. We don’t have to worry about having more people in jail than any other country. We don’t have to worry about the disappearing middle class. We don’t have to worry about economic and wealth inequality…we don’t have to worry about institutional racism, or a broken criminal justice. We don’t have to worry about that. All we should focus on now, 24/7, is ISIS,’” Sanders said in New Hampshire, according to a report on BuzzFeed.“Here’s what I say,” he went on, “I say that ISIS must be destroyed and I say that we have got to build a coalition which destroys ISIS. But I say that we are a great enough country and a smart enough country that we can destroy ISIS at the same time as rebuild a disappearing middle class. We can do both.”

(Photo courtesy of Kim DeFalco).

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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