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Why does the West love Bernie?

Appealing to independents, Latino voters and a call for change, Bernie Sanders’ message is resonating in states like Utah and California.

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Supporters scream with excitement as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 2, 2020.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Bernie Sanders surged in Western states in the 2016 Democratic race, and with the results of Tuesday’s primaries rolling in, it seems that Sanders support has not just remained strong in the West since then, but grown. 

While Sanders lost California and Nevada to Hillary Clinton in 2016, he is currently leading in California and won the majority of delegates in Nevada this year. He once again won Utah and Colorado. 

Sanders set up a powerful campaign base in the West, focused more on reaching out to Latino voters, and his “outsider status” has resonated well with Western voters. Here’s why those strategies are helping him win the West.

Reaching out to Latino Voters

Sanders won in California, Nevada, and Colorado partially because Latino voters turned out for the senator. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Latina New York congresswoman, endorsed Sanders in October, and later nicknamed him “Tio Sanders” at a rally. 

His big win in Nevada had less to do with Sanders’ politics and more with the fact that he started campaigning early in the state, and specifically asked Hispanic voters to vote for him, Ruben Navarrette Jr., a columnist wrote in USA Today.

“Latinos are going to the polls with the economy and health care in their minds and immigration in their hearts,” Clarissa Martinez de Castro, a leader of UnidosUS, the largest Latino advocacy group in the United States, told the Guardian

Sanders has promised to strengthen workers rights, and repeal all of Trump’s immigration related executive orders on day 1.

However, his brand of democratic socialism doesn’t appeal to all Latino voters. Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans in South Florida are not a fan of his embrace of socialist leaders like Fidel Castro. Biden is also leading in Texas, where about 38% of residents are Hispanic or Latino.

Appealing to nonparty voters

In California, independents make up the second largest voting block, with 5.3 million people listed as no “no-party-preference” voters. Forty-four percent of independent voters went for Sanders in the state, compared to the 12% that voted for Joe Biden. 

Sanders’ California campaign held three press conferences to inform no-party-preference voters that they could vote in the democratic primaries — they just had to request a crossover ballot. 

“We have built a massive campaign infrastructure that’s integrated in every single thing we do in California … and all of it includes information to NPP voters on what they need to do,’’ Rafael Navar, the California campaign manager, told Politico

Western states like an outsider

Sanders has a tenuous relationship with the Democratic Party, which, if the rising number of nonparty affiliated voters in California is any sign, might be relatable to Western voters. In 1985, Sanders told the New England Monthly, “I am not now, nor have I ever been, a liberal Democrat.”

He ran for Senate as an independent, but is campaigning for president as a Democrat. 

However, he more recently told The Progressive “the Democratic Party does not represent, and has not for many years, the interests of my constituency, which is primarily working families, middle-class people and low-income people,” according to a profile by Politico. 

While those distinctions might be unsettling for some, the outsider status can be appealing to Westerners. As Navarrette wrote in his column, “Most Nevadans don’t care what folks in Washington or the political parties think about their preferences. They march to the beat of their own drum.”

That off-beat drum roll was heard across the West last night, whether it will get loud enough to drown out Biden’s moderate rhythm remains to be seen.