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Sanders campaign making push in rural Alaska before Democratic caucus

  • Author: Lisa Demer
  • Updated: September 30, 2016
  • Published March 18, 2016

BETHEL — With the state's Democratic caucuses just a week away, Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign is making a big push in rural Alaska as well as the cities, with an eye on the 20 delegates up for grabs here.

"Part of it is the Bernie campaign philosophy of every vote matters," Jill Yordy, the Alaska coordinator for the Sanders campaign, said Friday afternoon. "To that end we want to make sure we aren't ignoring places that are off the road system or hard to get to."

One goal is to make sure supporters are prepared for the March 26 caucuses and know how to participate, she said. Organizers also can answer questions about policies and issues.

Sanders has five Alaska campaign offices, all with paid staff members and volunteers covering the population centers of Fairbanks, Anchorage, Juneau, Kenai and Wasilla.

Hillary Clinton's campaign has an office in Anchorage and has held organizational meetings in the other big population centers, said state director Alana Mounce. But it's not sending organizers to rural Alaska. Instead, in remote communities such as Bethel, Nome, Dillingham and Kodiak, the Clinton campaign is making phone calls and identifying supporters to make sure they know about the caucuses, she said. Clinton supporters also are going door-to-door in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.

"We are still fighting for every single delegate in this state," Mounce said.

Neither candidate has campaigned in Alaska directly, but with Alaska's spread-out electorate and tiny population, that's hardly a surprise. A visit by Sanders isn't planned "but we're still pushing for that," Yordy said.

Over the past week, Sanders organizer Paul Himmelstein has taken to Alaska's far reaches with campaign stops in Kotzebue and Nome, where he had an organizing meeting Friday at the Polar Café on Front Street.

On Saturday, the Sanders campaign turns to Bethel. Himmelstein will have a table set up at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center starting at 1 p.m. and then will meet with supporters at 3 p.m.

The cities are getting attention too. In Fairbanks on Friday, there was a planned "Rock the Caucus" for Sanders at the Pioneer Park Exhibit Hall. Local bands on the playlist: Vocal Chords, Kentucky Tundra, Barcelona Boys Choir and the Dilemma. On Saturday, there's a "Rock the Caucus" starting at 6 p.m. at the 49th State Brewing Co. theater (formerly the Snow Goose) in Anchorage. Local bands Dutchess, Winterland and Nightmare Squad are set to play, according to the campaign.

Clinton holds a sizeable lead in the count of delegates needed to win the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. But in a number of states that have already decided, the two candidates were close.

"Where we've lost, we've only been by a few delegates. When you look at it in that context, suddenly the number of delegates that Alaska gets looks pretty sizeable," Yordy said.

Supporters of both candidates say they've taken stands of special importance to Alaska.

Sanders has called for aggressive action on climate change. Clinton has come out against the proposed Pebble mine and issued a position paper on Native American issues.

Of the 20 delegates Alaska will send to the national Democratic convention July 25 in Philadelphia, 16 will be committed to candidates based on the caucus results.

The Democratic caucuses begin at 10 a.m. March 26 at locations all over Alaska. Organizers urge those interested to arrive early. Locations are listed on the Alaska Democratic Party website and people can sign up in advance there. Only registered Democrats can participate but people can register to vote or change their affiliation at the caucus site.

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