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Senator Sanders Iowa City message part of progressive reboot

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally Tuesday, June 7, 2016, in Santa Monica, Calif. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Thursday’s event at Hancher Auditorium is likely going to be a lot different from the first time Senator Bernie Sanders walked through an Iowa City Farmers’ Market. It was May of 2015, before "making America great again" or the idea of a progressive "Political Revolution" was burned into the public consciousness.

“This is such a toxic political environment for the Republican Party that Democrats are jumping on the opportunity to make inroads with potential candidates, voters and drive home the point that trump is doing a poor job,” said Cornell College Political Science Professor Hans Hassell.

University of Iowa Political Science Professor Tim Hagle says Democrats are trying to find a leader to rally behind. It can't really be President Obama, because he isn't running for any office.

In 2016, the establishment took such a big hit that activists are looking to figures that exist on the left flank of the party, like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Sanders.

“Particularly in Iowa, partially in Johnson County, where he got 60% of the allotted delegates that carries weight to bring together the Democrats,” said Hagle.

It puts Sanders in a position where he could have the political infrastructure he didn't have when he started as a fringe candidate back in 2015. Even if it's not his name on the ballot Hassell says it could put him in the position to hand pick the candidate that would inherit the activists loyal to Sanders.

“Either way he needs to be here either as a candidate or influential figure behind the scenes, he has to make contact,” said Hassell. “Being an Independent without direct contact with the party.”

Sanders visit comes while the Iowa Democratic Party is actively trying to unify their own messaging.

Recently elected Party Chair Troy Price says the lessons he learned on Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign is that candidates were getting specific with their policies on a wide range of issues, like water quality, education and healthcare, sometimes at the expense of the big picture.

“All those are great issues that Democrats lead on but we haven't had an overarching message that demonstrates that the democratic party has their backs,” said Price.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton outlined nuanced policies about the middle class, diversity and jobs without unifying them under one singular idea.

In 2016, Donald Trump kept it simple when he promised to "make America great again."

“That's marketing,” said Hassell. “I may not know my representative’s position, I may not know who my representative is, but I can say, ‘I know the Democrats stand for x, y, and z, and I do too so I should vote for them because I know that brand.”

If democrats can build an easily recognizable brand, Hagle says they'll have a good shot at mobilizing voters in 2018. He says the day to day fireworks out of the White House might keep passionate Democrats excited, but there are more third party or no party voters than there are either Democrats or Republicans.

“It's the no party voters that decide,” said Hagle. “They're the ones that are just sick of it all. You need more of a message to reach them beyond ‘I’m against this party or that party.’ So what are you for jobs, the economy or specific Iowa issues that will help those people turn out.”

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