WASHINGTON -- It looks like early state Democratic voters aren’t the only ones feeling the Bern.
On Tuesday, Republican leaders here took a certain amount of joy in noting how well Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) did in Iowa against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, all but tying the Democratic juggernaut.
“Really, the story coming out of Iowa is Bernie Sanders, I think,” said Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.). “Obviously, Bernie Sanders has an incredible amount of enthusiasm on his side. Feel the Bern, right?”
“Bernie Sanders is resonating with folks,” said Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.).
“It was a pretty impressive performance,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “A guy who showed up with no name ID, no political network and no money runs the former secretary of state within an inch of her life on a battleground where she was well organized.”
“He’s probably got the leg up to win in New Hampshire, so a pretty impressive start for a long-shot candidate,” Cole added.
Not that they were about to endorse a self-described democratic socialist -- but in Sanders' strong showing, they saw evidence that the Vermonter is tapping into the same sort of discontent that is bedeviling their own party's nominating process.
"Things aren’t going well for the average working American. It’s not the GDP, it’s not the stock market. What is life like for the American working person? There are 100 of them for every entrepreneur, so how are they doing?" said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who sits on two committees opposite Sanders, who is the top Democrat on the budget panel.
He said that incomes in America are falling, it's getting harder for most people to get ahead, and Sanders is "talking about that in a real way."
Sessions disagrees with Sanders' solutions, but he sees the appeal.
"Voters aren’t happy. All they’re hearing is the same old, same old, and they're tired of it," he said. "So some people take Bernie’s seductive call -- let the government do more, let the government fix it."
While some of the GOP's admiration for Sanders' political feat seems genuine, it also could have an ulterior motive or three, in that a Sanders surge could take some of the focus off the hardliners dominating the Republican side of the contest.
It could also offer the Republican establishment -- which has long regarded Clinton as a formidable foe -- what it sees as an opportunity to cast its rivals as way too liberal.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, certainly seemed entertained by that prospect.
“Well, it’s going to become the Sanders Democratic Party in this country, it looks like to me -- the socialist version," he said, smiling.
Watch Republicans react to Bernie Sanders' Iowa caucus showing in the video above.
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