If Bernie Sanders can win the California Democratic primary on Tuesday, it will be his first victory in a state that has more people than cows.
Sanders has soundly beat Hillary Clinton in rural areas, outrunning her in such states as Indiana, Alaska, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.
Why is a Jew from Brooklyn, who never lost his New York accent, such a hit in the sticks?
Maybe it’s because even the most right-wing Republican states have their share of liberal arts colleges, yoga studios and vegan restaurants.
And, across the U.S., there are pockets of folks just like Sanders, big-city migrants homesteading in the boonies.
After graduating from the University of Chicago with a degree in political science in the mid-1960s, Sanders fled to the backwoods.
“We had never been to Vermont in our lives – we just drove up,” Sanders told NPR.
The attraction, for a kid who grew up in a small apartment in Brooklyn, was cheap land.
He and his first wife bought 85 acres for $2,500 and moved into a shack in the woods with no electricity.
A resume from those early years lists his vocations as “freelance writer, youth counselor (and) carpenter.”
Young Bernard, like many in his kiddie corps of supporters, never held a real job – before he became mayor of Burlington in 1981, at the age of 39.
Since then, he has been a career politician – congressman, senator – informed by a cadre of confidants who share his history and socialist bent. Many of them are fellow Jewish refugees from New York, including professors of poetry and philosophy at the University of Vermont.
Two of Sanders’s most prominent supporters and benefactors are Ben (Cohen) and Jerry (Greenfield), two Jews from Brooklyn who opened their first ice cream parlor in a renovated gas station in Burlington in 1978.
On a hot summer day in the college town on Lake Champlain, known as “the People’s Republic of Burlington,” there’s nothing like a scoop of Chunky Monkey, Cherry Garcia, or Bernie’s Yearning, a special concoction of solid chocolate and mint ice cream named for Sanders.
You may have noticed I refuse to refer to Sanders as Bernie. In journalism, I believe first names should be reserved for pre-pubescent children, pets, and the four Beatles.
I must admit I’ve never felt the Bern, which sounds like a urinary tract infection.
And I must confess I did not vote for Sanders in either of the two primaries in which I was eligible – in the state of Maine, and one run by Democrats Abroad – both won by Sanders.
In the past two presidential elections, I sent ballots to Maine because it’s the last place I lived in the United States.
There, as we saw with Gore v. Bush in 2000, elections are administered by the same local yokels who issue dog licenses. And they have the power to decide which ballots to count, or not count.
For me, in 2008, the ordeal began when I filled out the forms to request absentee ballots for myself and my two Canadian-born, dual-citizen daughters, who would be voting in their first U.S. election.
In late September, I paid $12.15 to send the three forms express mail to the town hall in Clinton, Maine (pop. 3,000), where my wife Linda and I lived briefly in the early 1980s.
Throughout October, with election day approaching on Nov. 4, I went back and forth with the town clerk, Pam Violette, on the phone and via email.
First, she said she could not verify I ever lived in Clinton.
Later, she said, “I probably won’t challenge your vote but will still challenge your daughters.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because they never lived here,” she said.
“They’ve never lived anywhere in the United States,” I said, “that’s why they’re supposed to vote in the last place I lived.”
“I’m still going to challenge them,” she said.
I played the patriotism card: “I’ve worked very hard to make my children aware of their American citizenship and get them excited about this election. I’d hate for their votes not to be counted.”
I followed up with an email, imploring Violette to check the law with state officials in Augusta.
She replied on Oct. 21: “The (three) absentee ballots have been mailed. I will not challenge the ballots as I have verified everything with the State of Maine and they now have a ruling from the Attorney General’s Office.”
I forked over $43.50 to send our ballots FedEx and tracked the package online. FedEx informed me that Violette signed for it at 1:39 p.m. on Oct. 28.
I’ll never know whether our votes were counted, tossed in the trash, or fed to a goat.
But the experience led to the conclusion FedEx is best equipped to run U.S. elections.