Read: The gray race for the White House
“We want voters in New Hampshire to know, just because we won by such a large amount last time, we’re not taking them for granted,” says Carli Stevenson, Sanders’s deputy state director and one of the people who organized this swing through the state. “It’s more just about being humble and giving people the respect they deserve.”
To his credit, Sanders seemed like he couldn’t have been happier to be back to this style of campaigning. All through Tuesday, he went on about being “implicitly attacked” by the media because of a New York Times article digging into his ties to anti-American forces in Nicaragua while he was the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in the 1980s. He teased his upcoming trip to Arkansas to speak on behalf of Walmart workers at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting, tearing into the Walton family for piling up billions of dollars while full-time employees go on food stamps.
Some chalked up Sanders’s smile to celebrating his 31st wedding anniversary on Tuesday or spending most of Memorial Day weekend with his grandchildren (aside from a rally in Montpelier, Vermont, where he defended his foreign policy). This week was a return to the life Sanders had lived until 2015, riffing in backyard get-togethers about how he’d tried and failed to stop the Iraq War, but turned out to be right all along, subsequently receiving praise from small groups of aging white lefties who helped spread the word that “Bernie” was the real deal. During three events on Monday, Sanders even had his old friends from Burlington, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, scooping Ben & Jerry’s ice cream themselves.
He jokingly threatened to sing (“Nah, that would be a disaster”), and played what one aide called “Professor Bernie” as he turned the microphone around at town halls and quizzed people on how well they knew the Sanders diagnosis for what’s wrong with America. (“Give that man an A,” he said to the guy in Londonderry, New Hampshire, who, after four attempts from others, answered that universal health care doesn’t exist because of for-profit insurance companies.) Then there was the part that lit up staff conversations: “One other thing!” Sanders said in Rollinsford, New Hampshire, grabbing back the microphone after rounding out his speech about all the people who told him he was wrong on the issues in the 2016 race. “If anyone wants a selfie, get on line!” Among those who got one on Monday was a supporter’s pet named Bunny Sanders.
Read: Bernie Sanders pierces the Fox News bubble
Rivals see a campaign that’s stagnating. Polls show Sanders’s numbers falling, with Senator Elizabeth Warren and others gradually ascending, and the larger Democratic mood toward unity seems to be at odds with his combative style. That may be why the Monmouth University poll last week that measured Democrats’ favorability ratings of well-known candidates showed Sanders behind former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Kamala Harris, and Warren—and, at 44 percent, well down from the high of 53 percent he enjoyed in March. From the outset of the race, the thinking on Sanders was that he was the only candidate who had a floor of support that he couldn’t sink under, and his challenge would be to prove that the floor wasn’t his ceiling too. Since Biden entered the race, Sanders has hovered just over that floor—much higher than most of the rest of the field right now, but nowhere near what he’d need for an actual revolution.