On Wednesday evening, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke at a campaign rally in Madison, Wisconsin with almost 10,000 people in attendance. The packed stadium held the largest turnout for any 2016 candidate yet, and though these numbers are not uncommon in later stages of the race, it is particularly significant now. But it shouldn't be surprising for the Vermont senator — Time and again, Bernie Sanders has proved he's a serious presidential contender, contrary to the beliefs of his skeptics.
When he first announced that he was running for president, many saw him as a fringe candidate whose chances against the behemothic Hillary Clinton were slim, at best. The media, too, gave his campaign little weight in their reporting. Even the eminent Katie Couric asked Sanders pointedly during an interview about his presidential campaign whether he would like to be Clinton's running mate. But Sanders has been defying critics and non-believers, drawing large crowds in important states, performing well in polls and raising large sums of money from regular Americans. And all this without any of the other candidates' deep pockets or grotesquely wealthy backers.
Of course, election campaigns are as volatile as the weather, and there's no predicting where Sanders could go from here. But rest assured that the self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, Bernie Sanders, is a drop-dead serious contender for the 2016 election. Here's why.
1. The Wisconsin rally saw the biggest crowd yet in the presidential race.
Even Sanders himself seemed taken aback. "Whoa," he said. "In case you haven't noticed, there are a lot of people here."
2. Sanders has also drawn the largest crowd in a key election state, Iowa, than any other 2016 candidate has.
It's not even 2016, but Sanders has managed to draw massive crowds in other places: 5,000 people in Denver and 300 in an Iowa town of 240.
3. His campaign has raised at least $15 million since it launched in late April.
According to his aides, the millions of dollars came from about 250,000 individual donors. The average donation was only $33.51 and 99 percent of donations were under $250 — which means that average Americans, who came together to donate small portions of money to his campaign, totaled $15 million.
In a race where both parties are financed by the obscenely wealthy, Sanders' shoestring budget is being powered by actual people who have clearly stepped up to the game. Yup, that's some incredible grassroots power right there.
4. In Iowa, Sanders is gaining traction on Hillary Clinton.
Among the Democratic candidates, Sanders is polling at 33 percent, slightly behind Clinton's 52 percent. But that's a huge increase from his 15 percent in early May. If this pattern continues, Sanders could surpass Clinton in a vital election state.
5. His message is powerful, and it speaks to many young people.
Those of the younger generation disillusioned with the country's political bickering are coming out in droves to support and campaign for Sanders. His platform — $15 minimum wage, criminal justice reform and raising taxes on the rich — speaks to the youth in a way that no other candidate has managed to do.
6. Progressive champion Senator Elizabeth Warren praised Sanders for being "on the issues."
Warren, whose clout among the progressive Democratic bloc is undeniable, said that she would not endorse any candidate yet, but she approves of his message. "Bernie is there on the issues," Warren said. "That's what matters to a lot of people. I love what Bernie is talking about."
Which is not an explicit endorsement, but is strong enough to send a note of caution to his contenders: Bernie Sanders is not here to mess around.
[Cover image via Scott Olson/Getty Images]