Former Senator George McGovern speaks at a 2008 campaign stop for then presidential hopeful Barack Obama at the Sioux Falls arena.(Photo: Elisha Page / Argus Leader Media)Buy Photo
If South Dakota Democrats back Bernie Sanders in the party's June 7 primary, it won't be the first time the state has supported a left-leaning populist with some unpopular political views.
George McGovern likely never would have called himself a socialist, but some political observers see parallels between Sanders and the late South Dakota senator and congressman.
"When you look at their tone, their appeal, their anti-establishment rhetoric, Sanders and McGovern are pretty similar," South Dakota State University professor David Wiltse said. "And that could give him a boost for many Democrats here."
Still behind in the delegate count but pushing on with his campaign, Sanders could benefit from the similarities in South Dakota, where the state's Democratic party was founded on strong populist roots.
Former Democratic Sen. James Abourezk served in Congress alongside McGovern for eight years. He said he sees comparisons between the two in terms of their willingness to take unpopular positions on policy. For McGovern, it was opposing the war in Vietnam, Abourezk said, for Sanders, it's civil issues.
"He's just like McGovern, he's tough on issues that require a lot of bravery and courage at this point," Abourezk said.
Political analyst Mark Plotkin wrote a column for The Hill last year asking "Is Bernie Sanders the next George McGovern?"
"All McGovern talked about in '72 was the war in Vietnam, that he would get us out, and fast," Plotkin wrote. "Sanders is on to something that grips the Democratic Party voter. He is their messenger. The issue of economic inequality and economic unfairness, of being left behind and ignored and forgotten, is a powerful message."
Tom Katus, former state lawmaker, a longtime friend of McGovern and South Dakota Democratic delegate backing Sanders, said both men aimed to dramatically change the direction of the party.
MORE coverage of Sanders' tour of South Dakota here.
Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson
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