Iowa City supporters hopeful for progressive movement after Bernie Sanders exits race

Although Bernie Sanders’ Iowa City supporters were disappointed in his presidential campaign ending on Wednesday, they said his progressive platform will continue to be relevant.


Katina Zentz

during the Iowa City Climate Rally at the Graduate hotel on Sunday, January 12, 2020. Sanders discussed his climate policies, the impact of climate change, the Green New Deal, and the dangers of climate inaction in the government.

Caleb McCullough, Assistant Politics Editor

Iowa City supporters are reflecting on Bernie Sanders’ progressive presidential campaign after the Vermont senator exited the Democratic field on Wednesday. Sanders’ exit comes after a global pandemic forced him to forgo campaign rallies and after losing momentum in primaries since Super Tuesday.

After learning Sanders had dropped his bid — leaving Joe Biden as the sole Democratic candidate — Iowa City supporters said they were disappointed but largely hopeful for the future of the progressive movement championed by Sanders.

Mike Carberry, former chair of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, said he spent much of Wednesday talking to fellow Sanders supporters, seeing how they were doing and reflecting on Sanders’ campaign.

One thing that stood out, Carberry said, are the policy ideas Sanders brought to the forefront in 2016, which became standard positions of several 2020 candidates.

“After 2016 we started talking about Medicare for All, we started talking about free college tuition, and some of the things that were just unheard of four years ago or five years ago, were now mainstream thought in the Democratic Party,” he said.

Sanders found success in the first three nominating contests of the Democratic primary but was unable to push that momentum into a winning campaign after Super Tuesday. While he lost out slightly in the Iowa caucuses to former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg by the standard metric, state delegate equivalents, he did pull in the largest raw body count at the caucuses on Feb. 3.

Carberry said he hopes the end of Sanders’ campaign does not mean an end to the policies and ideas he supported.

“We’re hoping that the movement that he has built — we can continue to move forward, both on the local, state and federal level,” he said. “That we can continue to press our local elected officials at the city and the county level, and then at the state level, to work on these justice issues that are very prevalent now.”

Rockne Cole, a former member of the Iowa City City Council, endorsed Sanders in November during his term as a city councilor. He said that Sanders brought a new set of voters to the Democratic Party, and that future candidates will be able to build on that messaging.

“What he’s left the next generation of leaders, because this likely will be his last campaign, is an infrastructure, a set of ideas, a set of new voters that I think will really invigorate the Democratic Party,” he said. “I think a lot of those voters have been left out for far too long.”

Both Carberry and Cole said the recent economic struggles created by the COVID-19 pandemic have made Sanders’ ideas more prominent. With millions of people losing their jobs in a few short weeks, Cole argued it shows the need for universal health care.

Nearly 10 million people filed for unemployment in the past two weeks after several states shut down nonessential services to stem the spread of the coronavirus. This led to about 3.5 million people losing health insurance, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

“Ultimately, reality has endorsed Bernie Sanders, and that’s the most powerful thing for us going forward,” Cole said.

University of Iowa sophomore Oscar Rodriguez, who was a member of Hawkeyes for Warren, shifted his support to Sanders after Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts dropped out of the presidential race. Rodriguez said he wanted to support someone who advocated for progressive policies.

He said he saw ripples of Sanders’ messaging during the 2018 midterm elections, when several progressive candidates and a record number of women were elected to the House of Representatives.

He also said Sanders’ and Warren’s campaigns energized people, including himself, to be politically involved, organizing and volunteering for candidates.

“[Sanders’ supporters are] definitely going to continue to be involved and realize, ‘Hey, I don’t need a candidate in order to get involved, I can get involved in my own way,’” he said.

With Sanders’ exit came numerous calls for his supporters to rally behind Biden, including from some previous presidential candidates.


Biden himself tweeted praise for Sanders Wednesday, calling the senator “one of the most powerful voices for change in our country.”

While both Cole and Carberry said they would be voting for Biden in November, Rodriguez said he still hasn’t made up his mind. He said Biden’s more moderate policies, career decisions, and sexual assault allegations against him make it difficult to support him.

“For me, and my perspective, I think that a progressive president is the only way we’re able to help out the most marginalized communities,” he said. “And so seeing that there’s no longer a progressive nominee I’m really concerned for the future of the party and what the outcome is going to be in November.”


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