Reprinted from The Nation
More than 500 Wisconsin Democrats participated in a presidential straw poll at their state party convention over the weekend, and they sent a powerful signal about the potential of the challenge Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is mounting to presumed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Clinton still maintains a wide lead in national polls and in those from early battleground states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. But the delegates, alternates, and registered guests at the Wisconsin party convention -- among the state's most activist Democrats -- gave Sanders 41 percent support to 49 percent for Clinton.
The breakdown of the straw poll vote, which was conducted by the well regarded politics website WisPolitics.com, was:
Hillary Clinton 252
Bernie Sanders 208
Joe Biden 16
Martin O'Malley 16
Jim Webb 8
Lincoln Chafee 5
No vote 1
Elizabeth Warren 4
Tom Vilsack 1
The senator has been a regular visitor to Wisconsin over the years, as a frequent speaker at the annual "Fighting Bob Fest" gatherings, which draw thousands of Wisconsin activists to outdoor events each September. He has lauded the legacy of former Wisconsin US senator Robert M. La Follette, who mounted an independent progressive campaign for the presidency in 1924, and of the democratic socialists who led Milwaukee for much of the 20th century. In recent years, he had worked with Ed Garvey, a former gubernatorial candidate, on a host of issues.
Perhaps most importantly, Sanders is an enthusiastic backer of organized labor -- a stance that resonates with Wisconsin activists who, over the past four years, have battled the anti-union initiatives of the administration of Governor Scott Walker.
Clinton has also worked the state over the years. In 2008, she and her backers battled with Barack Obama and his backers in a closely watched February primary. Obama won the primary with a 58-41 margin. But Clinton ran well in many regions of the state and took 32 of the state's 74 delegates.
This year, at the state convention, Clinton backers were present -- with pins and T-shirts. And they were celebrating a recent endorsement of their candidate from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a former gubernatorial candidate and 2008 Obama backer.