GRINNELL, IOWA— One of the biggest surprises in the race for the White House in 2016 is the surge in popularity of anti-establishment candidates in both parties.
In towns across Iowa, the crowds supporting Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, are growing.
“I think I share just about all of his feelings about important positions,” said Lorna Caulkins, a retired librarian from Grinnell.
It’s a similar story for businessman Donald Trump, a Republican candidate who has been speaking to overflow crowds in the state.
“I believe Donald has the right tools, said Marlonda Bell-Clark of Dubuque.
In a recent Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll of likely voters in the upcoming Iowa caucuses, both Sanders and Trump are surging in popularity. Trump supporter Dick Clark, also of Dubuque, said he knows why.
“There’s an anger in America. An anger against politicians," Clark said. "He’s saying the right things. He’s saying things that are unpolitically correct, but I do not believe that anger is going to dissipate, so I think he’s got a chance.”
Caulkins called Trump "so extreme, and to many people, I suppose, Sanders is extreme, too.”
The out-of-the-mainstream positions of both Sanders and Trump on issues of immigration and health care are contributing to their popularity surge. But Sanders supporter Caulkins said it might not be enough.
“I don’t know how likely Sanders is in being able to get the nomination," she said, "but I have hoped from the beginning of this campaign that he could affect Hillary [Clinton] or any other front-runner in a more progressive manner.”
Despite Sanders' rising popularity, polling shows Clinton is still the leading Democratic candidate in Iowa.
“There’s just enough things going on with Hillary right now that I don’t know that she’s real trustworthy,” said Bruce Hoffmeier, a retired Newton school administrator.
Hoffmeier said concerns about the private email server Clinton used while she was secretary of state could provide an opportunity for another candidate not already in the race.
“I think it will be interesting if [Vice President] Joe Biden enters the race," he said, "because I think he will jump right into the fray and maybe take over in the top spot if he jumps in.”
For now, polling shows Trump narrowly owns the top spot for Republican voters in Iowa. But Bell Clark has advice if he wants to stay there: "Maybe stop being a little more self-centered.”
The Iowa caucuses, the first step in the presidential nominating process, are set for February 1.