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Bernie Sanders Enjoys A Surge In Polling Ahead Of Iowa Caucuses


Another candidate running for the Democratic nomination - Bernie Sanders, who has been at or near the top of many Iowa polls. And one member of Congress who wants to see Sanders get elected is Mark Pocan, Democratic Congressman of Wisconsin. He is here in Iowa. He's been stumping for Sanders and joins me this morning. Congressman, welcome.

MARK POCAN: Thank you. Glad to be here.

GREENE: Well, we appreciate the time. You know, Rachel and I have been talking to a lot of voters around the state over the last week, and I want to jump to one right off the bat. This is the sound of a crop farmer named John Baker (ph), registered Democrat, planning to vote for President Trump. And I asked him why he has abandoned his party.

JOHN BAKER: I don't want to even see socialism in this country, and that Democratic Party is closer to socialism than any other party there is.

GREENE: So you don't get much closer to socialism than Bernie Sanders. I mean, that's actually how he labels himself. Why are you convinced that he could bring voters like John along in November?

POCAN: You know, I'm convinced because the last interview you had is much more true. I live a hour and 10 minutes from Dubuque. I have a lot of corn growers and soybean farmers and dairy producers. We've all been hit in the same ways. When you heard him talk about between trade and the waivers and then throw on top of that climate change, we've lost 1,800 dairy farms in Wisconsin alone, family farms, since Donald Trump became president. So that's the story I hear far more often; it's that they're not getting by.

And someone like Bernie Sanders is actually talking about making sure that the average person gets a fair shot. And I think that message, as I've been going across Iowa and in my home state of Wisconsin, is what's really resonating.

GREENE: But isn't it notable that farmer told Rachel that he might consider Amy Klobuchar? Doesn't that tell us something about which Democrats potential Trump voters might consider in November? It doesn't sound like Sanders came up with him.

POCAN: Well, and that's what's on the ground here. I mean, the last three polls have shown anyone can win. I think Bernie was up in one. He was down in another. And four people were viable to come out of Iowa - the winner today and another. So it really matters on turnout.

And I think what's interesting on the ground here is Bernie Sanders has had, without question, the most energy, the biggest turnout at events. And if they can turn that turnout at events into turnout at a caucus, then Bernie Sanders will do very well tonight. And people, if they really want to make sure that he's going to be the nominee, they need to come out - those folks who live in Iowa.

GREENE: Let me ask you about that question of turning crowds into actual support at caucuses. I mean, we had colleagues at the big Vampire Weekend concert in Cedar Rapids, where Senator Sanders was speaking. At one point, someone said, hey, who's from out of state? And a ton of people started screaming. Are you convinced that the numbers that we have seen really are going to translate into a victory tonight?

POCAN: Well, I do because I've seen and talked to many of the people who have been going out and knocking on doors. I was at that event as well. And when you talk to people and ask what they're hearing at the doors, people really are looking for some serious change. They want to know that someone's going to fight for them.

I mean, Donald Trump has been awful for people in the upper Midwest for the last three years, and people are looking for that difference, someone who's actually going to look out for them and their family, first and foremost. And that's those basic kitchen-table economic issues that Bernie Sanders has been consistent about for decades. So I think if those people get out to vote at the caucus - and remember, a caucus could be a two- or three-hour commitment. It's not like just popping in for a five-minute vote.

GREENE: Yeah, it's not.

POCAN: So it is a real strategy to get people out. Bernie has done it before, and I think if he can do it tonight, you could really have some record turnouts here in Iowa.

GREENE: One other voice I want to listen to together, if we could.

POCAN: Sure.

GREENE: I was in a small town Lamoni, which is in the poorest county in Iowa, and I met a lady named Theresa Farrell (ph). She is college-educated but has been really struggling - depends upon the food pantry, where I met her. And we were talking about the misconception of people living in poverty. Let's listen.

THERESA FARRELL: I'm not stupid (laughter). I think that that's attached to a lot of it, is if she knew more, she'd do better, and that's not always the case. You know, I'm not lazy, and I'm not dumb, and I'm not trying to take anything from you (laughter). I feel guilty. I have guilt and shame.

GREENE: You know, she sounds like the kind of voter who Bernie Sanders says his policies would help. She was not, though, planning to caucus. I mean, how do you reach potential voters like Teresa and persuade them they have a role in this political process?

POCAN: The only way we win in November is by reaching out to voters like Teresa because in Wisconsin, in 2016, the reason the state went to Trump is we had a 250,000 Democratic voter drop-off. And what we need to do is have someone who can appeal to the broadest number of folks with a big message about - they actually care about their problems, and they're going to do something about it.

And I think Bernie Sanders, of all the candidates, does the very best job in doing that. He connects with people at that level. And if we get people like her out to vote, that's how we take back the White House. So that's why I'm here in Iowa for the last several weekends working for Bernie.

GREENE: Democratic Congressman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin. Thanks so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.

POCAN: Absolutely. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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