Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) supposedly did Hillary Clinton a big favour at the first Democratic debate in Las Vegas, Nevada.
But he’s been the one capitalising on that favour in the days since. He has raised millions since the debate, which has only served to fuel his rising popularity within the party.
The big moment came when he asked during the debate to comment on the unfolding saga over Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state. Sanders took the high road — in theatrical fashion.
“Let me say something that may not be great politics. I think that the secretary is right. The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!” Sanders said, as the audience roared.
Twitter reported that it was the most tweeted-about quote of the night for both Sanders and Clinton, while it was prominently featured in numerous media reports.
The moment played to the narrative that’s fuelled his campaign — Sanders as an atypical Washington figure who is unwilling to play politics as usual. He has said that he will engage in negative campaigning, an act the Clinton campaign has so far reciprocated.
And the senator’s campaign wasted little time capitalising on it, blasting out the quote in a fundraising email:
The most re-tweeted moment of the night also came from the Sanders campaign over his comments, which it dubbed the “best line of the night.”
The campaign reported Wednesday that it had raised almost $US2 million since the debate alone.
And on Thursday, Sanders lapped up praise over his comments during an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” where he appeared in front of a background photo of himself and Clinton shaking hands onstage immediately after the “email” moment.
“I think what you said about Hillary in the emails, you said this may not be political, and I think that’s the exact thing that people are sick of, is people being political. I think people just need to hear you say what you feel,” DeGeneres said as the audience applauded.
“I think that’s absolutely right. I think, Ellen, you hit the nail on the head. I will tell you, I’ve been in many, many campaigns in my political life. And I’m very proud to say, I’ve never run a negative political ad in my entire life,” Sanders said.
“Yeah, and I love that about you,” DeGeneres said.
Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said the “email” line was totally unscripted and showed how the senator’s off-the-cuff delivery and determination to talk about issues was resonating with voters.
“When you don’t script somebody, they’re not canned, you get lines like that that come right from the heart,” Weaver said after the debate. “What it really showed is this: What he wants to do is talk about the real political issues facing the American people.”
Despite their almost completely opposing political views, Sanders has tapped into the same kind of unscripted, populist speaking style that has helped fuel Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s rise. Like Sanders, Trump’s supporters have lauded him for speaking his mind despite the supposed potential political consequences.
Throughout the summer, Clinton has faced questions over her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state. Multiple investigations have continued to churn out a continued drip of new details but which have nonetheless concerned Democrats about her standing ahead of next year’s election. The FBI over the summer opened an investigation into the email use.
Clinton has admitted that her use of a private server was not a wise choice, but she has said the continued focus on the emails is a political tactic being used by Republicans against her campaign.
Despite his rising popularity, Sanders is still viewed as a long-shot for the nomination. Most national polls put Clinton ahead by significant margins, while Sanders has failed to grow his support beyond white voters concentrated in liberal enclaves.
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