Campaigning as a "socialist" in a US senatorial contest might easily be the stuff of satire - a prank to provoke conservatives by brandishing an affiliation that they most commonly use as a term of abuse. Except in Vermont, the small, north-eastern state that borders on Canada and verges on the Canadian in its un-American tolerance of pious peacenik dissent. Since 2007, it has been represented in the Senate by Bernie Sanders, an independent loosely allied to the Democrats, who previously served 16 years in the House of Representatives and calls himself a democratic socialist - the first in Congress since the 1920s.
At 70, famously dishevelled and memorable for his pugnacity rather than charisma, Sanders is more of a campaigner than a legislator.
His denunciations of politicians who compromise with the iniquities of US capitalism (all of them) have sometimes left him friendless in Washington. He is despised by Republicans; among Democrats, however, he has earned a grudging kind of admiration by sheer longevity and tenacity.
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