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Vermont Primary Saw Bids By Young People Inspired By Bernie Sanders

Rebecca Sananes
Nick Clark, 28, outside the Norwich Town Hall the day of Vermont's primary elections. He ran for state representative after being inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Many young people ran for Vermont Legislature in this year's primary contests. Several say they were inspired by Bernie Sanders' run for president.

Nick Clark was one of them. Before this year, the 28 year old had never voted, at least not in a major election. Then Bernie Sanders ran for president.

“The first time I voted in my life was March 1 for Bernie in Vermont in the primary,” he said. “So [Bernie Sanders] turned around my belief in government and he turned around the path my life was going on.”

Clark started putting signs all over the Upper Valley and ran for one of two contested seats for state representative from Norwich, Thetford, Strafford and Sharon.

On Tuesday, primary Election Day, holding a sign in the hot sun outside the Norwich Town Hall Nick said after campaigning for Sanders in New Hampshire, he started looking at local issues.

“I saw that a lot of young adults were either leaving the state or staying here and struggling to make it and on the very bad end of that they were self-medicating.”

He continued: “So I decided to run for state representative as a way to sort of make government more accessible to a demographic that felt very disconnected.” 

Clark didn't quite get the votes he needed to win the election.

But, on the day after his first political loss, Nick Clark says he's here to stay one way or another.

“It's hard to predict if I will run again the day after a primary looking out two years, but as Bernie said it's better to show up than to give up,” he told VPR over the phone. “And the issues haven't changed at all so there's more work to do. Even if I had won there would still be more work to do.”

Clark was just one of a handful of younger candidates in Vermont's elections this year.

Ashley Andreas was another. She is a 23 year old living in Wilder who ran for House of Representatives, in the Windsor 4-2 District. She was also inspired by the Sanders' campaign.

“To ask young people, to ask ordinary people to stand up and run it felt he was talking to me because I had always been so interested in politics and passionate,” she explained.

"To ask young people, to ask ordinary people to stand up and run it felt [Bernie Sanders] was talking to me because I had always been so interested in politics and passionate." — Ashley Andreas, 23

Andreas fell short by just 40 votes. But for her, the political revolution lives on.

“Being a state representative is a great honor and way to serve the public and community,” she said. “But there are lots of other avenues for change and lots of other things you can do politically that can benefit your community.”

So will the trend of young people entering politics galvanized by Bernie Sanders continue? Or is this a pop culture blip on the political radar?

Eric Davis, a professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College, says it's too soon to tell:

“In this year's presidential cycle, Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign has certainly inspired many young people to get involved in politics,” Davis said. “The question I have, and I believe it's too early to provide an answer to this question, is whether these impacts of the Sanders' campaign are going to continue beyond the end of 2016.”

Long term, Davis thinks whether the trend sticks or not depends on the outcome of the November election.

“If the young people who've been supporting Bernie Sanders this year see some examples of concrete policy either with the Clinton Administration or with Sanders in the Senate Committee Chair as a result from this movement, then I think there could be continued involvement and interest in politics," Davis says. “If nothing happens, then you have to worry about lack of motivation, cynicism returning and all those sorts of things.”

But for those young people who ran because of Sanders and did not win this time: It is worth remembering that a younger Bernie Sanders took several tries before he won his first election. 

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