While Bernie Sanders is looking to poach Donald Trump’s supporters, the leading Republican candidate will hold a rally on the Vermont senator’s home turf.
The liberal enclave of Burlington, Vermont, where Sanders was mayor for eight years, is the location of the Democratic candidate’s campaign headquarters — as well as a Trump rally Thursday night.
On its face, the “People’s Republic of Burlington’’ does not seem like the ideal audience for Trump’s red-meat conservative rhetoric. The city elected Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, four times as mayor and its current government is dominated by the Democratic Party and Vermont Progressive Party — which is aligned even further left of the Democrats.
Vermont, as a whole, voted 67 percent to 31 percent in 2012 to re-elect Barack Obama over Mitt Romney — making it the most Democratic-leaning state in the country, save for Obama’s homestate of Hawaii.
Even the Vermont Republican Party distanced itself from the rally Thursday upon its announcement last week, per a statement from executive director Jeffrey Bartley:
The Vermont Republican Party did not invite Mr. Trump and has no role in his event. Like all presidential candidates, he is welcome to share his thoughts with Vermonters. We hope all candidates will articulate, in a responsible and respectful Vermont way, their ideas for helping to make our state and or nation more affordable and prosperous for working class families.
However, a recent Vermont primary poll found that 32 percent of likely Republican voters favor Trump over Marco Rubio at 21 percent and Ted Cruz at 15 percent.
When an earlier poll open-endedly asked Vermont Republicans who they’d hope would be president in 2016, it found a three-way tie between Trump, Ben Carson — and Sanders.
The Trump campaign declined to comment on the decision to hold a rally in Burlington.
University of Vermont political science professor Garrison Nelson said that the Republican candidate is looking in the wrong place, if he’s looking to return serve and steal voters from Sanders.
“Bernie’s economic message resonates with Trump voters who are struggling financially, but Trump’s anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim social message falls flat with Bernie voters,’’ Nelson told Boston.com, also noting that Sanders supporters tend to be more formally educated than Trump supporters.
“My belief is that Bernie would get more Trump voters than Trump would get of Bernie voters,’’ he added.
Meanwhile, the Vermont senator welcomed Trump to his homestate.
“I hope his presence here will help him better understand Vermont values — social and economic justice, tolerance, respect for all people and the environment,’’ Sanders said Wednesday in a statement.
The Sanders campaign recently embarked on a strategy to appeal to Trump supporters, increasing his attacks on the Republican and targeting the working-class white voters that make up much of his base.
“People are anxious and they are angry,’’ Sanders recently said in rural Iowa, per BuzzFeed News, referring to stagnant middle-class wages. “Now what you do rationally is you look at these issues, why is the middle class disappearing. why are real wages coming down? Let’s talk about that and let’s solve those problems.’’
“What I’m suggesting is that what Trump has done with some success has taken that anger, taken those fears — which are legitimate — and converted them into anger against Mexicans, anger against Muslims,’’ Sanders said December 28 on CNN.
During a town hall Monday in Manchester, New Hampshire, Sanders said Trump, instead of addressing the issues, was using “demagogic means’’ to divide voters, according to the Concord Monitor.
“That’s the oldest trick in the book,’’ he added.
Nelson hinted there may an ulterior motive to Trump’s decision to hold a rally in Burlington, other than swaying likely voters: Generating attention.
“There will be genuine Trump supporters,’’ Nelson said. “But most of the crowd will be there for the show and the media circus.’’
On cue, Burlington police said Wednesday that the Trump campaign has distributed nearly 20,000 free tickets to the event, with at least 6,500 people confirming a desire to attend Thursday night. The Flynn Center has a capacity of 1,400.
“If Phish was holding a free concert at the Flynn and gave away 20,000 free tickets, we would cancel the event out of public safety concerns,’’ Police Chief Brandon del Pozo told the Burlington Free Press. “We are committed to accommodating the campaign because political speech is the very essence of the First Amendment.’’
Burlington police added that visitors should understand they may not be able to enter the event, and that there will be likely demonstrations from different political perspectives outside the Flynn Center.
“Publicity is Donald Trump’s drug of choice,’’ Nelson said. “He will recieve plenty.’’