Young Democrats gravitate toward elder Sanders

To voters under 30, Bernie Sanders is one of them.

Forget Hillary Clinton. “She’s a corporate sellout,” said Emmy Ham, a senior international affairs and anthropology major at the University of New Hampshire.

And forget the notion that young women are eager to see Clinton president because of her gender. “There will be other opportunities for me to vote for a woman for president,” Ham said.

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Sanders has surged among young people as few candidates have since the U.S. senator from Vermont was a college student in the 1960s. Sanders, 74, topped Clinton 84 to 14 percent among Democrats 29 and younger in Iowa’s Monday caucus. He’s got a 3-1 lead among those ages 18 to 29 in the latest NBCNews/WSJ-Marist New Hampshire poll.

Sanders has two important traits common to younger voters: he’s new and he won’t compromise his ideals.

Young voters see Clinton as part of another era. She’s been in the national spotlight for 24 years, before many of them were born. “She’s been there their entire life, and she’s yesterday’s news,” said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. “But no one knew who Bernie Sanders was until recently.”

In Sanders they see someone who stubbornly follows his own path. He pitches higher taxes and universal health care, initiatives long derided as incompatible with Washington’s incremental, cautious ways of proceeding. He won’t take corporate contributions, and unapologetically promotes himself as a democratic socialist.

“He owns himself,” said Jacob Moss, a senior geography major at UNH. “He follows his own moral compass.”

And he follows it with the same uninhibited fervor as a college student.

“Hillary is a good candidate, but Bernie has more passion,” said Megan Roche, a sophomore English major at UNH.

Clinton’s forces insist she appeals to younger voters. “She loves talking to young people,” said Joel Benenson, Clinton’s pollster. Her supporters note that she built her career working with younger people on such issues as easing the cost of college and women’s rights.

When Clinton campaigned door to door in Manchester Saturday, students from Saint Anselm College were waiting for her. “She’s the first person to say women’s rights are human rights,” said Emily Rice, a student from Saint Anselm College.

But she acknowledged that most young people she knows are Sanders backers. “People our age are very angry,” Rice said. “They don’t see a path forward, and Sanders has tapped into that.”

That’s easy to see on the University of New Hampshire campus. A Sanders for President table outside the food court in the Memorial Union building has constant traffic. “Feel the Bern” T-shirts are popular. Fifteen traveled 37 miles to Concord at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday to await Sanders’ arrival from Iowa, and found students from other campuses waiting in a parking lot.

There’s no evidence of much, if any support for Clinton. There’s no table outside the food court and editors at the student newspaper were unaware of any organized effort.

The Sanders allure runs deep, fueled by several factors.

Students appreciate his views on the military. They see Clinton as part of the Obama administration that has had trouble controlling terrorism, and some cite her 2002 vote to authorize the war in Iraq. Clinton last week reiterated that her vote was a mistake.

“I don’t support all-out war in the Middle East, and I do believe there’s a better chance that could happen with Clinton,” said Jacob Compagna, a freshman classic major.

Many of these students grew up in homes where parents came of age during or just after the Vietnam War. Many protested, or were reluctant to back, American involvement. Emma Booth, a junior women’s studies major, said her parents are pacifists, helping drive her into Sanders’ camp.

Sanders also has a huge weapon that helps endear him to young voters — his proposal to make public colleges and universities tuition free.

Gabrielle Greaves, a sophomore English major, has a brother entering college soon. Her family, she said, is “going to need a lot more money in the next two years.”

Clinton has a detailed program to help with tuition, largely by reducing interest rates on college loans. Not enough, Greaves said, explaining, “She just wants to pick up where Obama has failed.”