April 09, 2016
Bernie Believers Sameer Kheton and Xelba Gutiérrez, plus another 30 or so volunteers, spent Saturday at Bernie Camp in South Philadelphia.
The two volunteers, both of whom are 31, have been politically involved and aware in the past, but not at this level.
They are spending upwards of 20 hours a week working on behalf of Democrat Bernie Sanders, who trails by just six points in the most recent Quinnipiac poll but is pegged a 22-point underdog in Pennsylvania's April 26 primary contest against Hillary Clinton, according to the latest Harper poll.
Gutiérrez, a grad student whose Venezuelan-born father fled to Chile over politics – only to find more political upheaval in her mother’s country – was raised in a politically active family, but she’s never campaigned before.
Kheton, who does fundraising for non-profits, has a twin in Albany, New York. And while both were engaged in civics previously, Sander’s entrance into the field has galvanized them.
Kheton has already been at work on ballot access issues, recruiting delegates, participating in marches, staffing phone banks, and working on voter registration.
While Philly is an establishment Democrat bastion, more naturally inclined to Clinton, Kheton sees Sanders’ rallying cry for universal civil engagement as what has drawn him and other supporters to the candidate’s camp.
“They like his track record and his consistency,” said Kheton.
And he sees a huge frustration with the political system “that can’t get anything done,” pulling people into this election.
“I’m helping to organize with lots of people who have never voted before,” he said.
Gutiérrez said she finds many are drawn to Sanders because he’s organized a strong campaign without the financial support of lobbyists.
“People are not content or happy,” with politics as it is, said Gutiérrez, who specializes in door-to-door engagement.
Disgust with politics as usual is part of why Sanders has gained ground in polling picked up a recent string of primary victories.
On Saturday, as Sanders claimed a victory in Wyoming's primary caucus, Gutiérrez spent the day going over recruiting, putting together teams, and working out logistics for the primary. Sanders will need all the help he can get in the Keystone State. Nationally, Clinton holds a 1,755 to 1,068 delegate lead over Sanders, with 2,383 required to secure the party's nomination.