Sen. Bernie Sanders has always been a different type of candidate.
Only recently did the 74-year-old independent from Vermont begrudgingly switch his affiliation to the Democratic Party, where the self-identified socialist hopes to have a realistic chance at the presidency.
Tuesday night will see Democrats' first presidential debate, and Sanders is doing it his way.
Dismissed by experts as an outlier early in the race, Sanders has emerged as a surprise superstar to the party's increasingly leftward base. In recent weeks, he has smashed the dominant polling status of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who is reeling as the investigations of her email misuses and her role in a deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. embassy expand.
In a recent poll by Real Clear Politics, Sanders enjoyed 25.4 percent support. Much of that appears to have come at the expense of Clinton's once-prohibitive lead. The former first lady and senator from New York has dropped to 42 percent, from over 60 percent at mid-year.
Sanders has received more campaign donations than any primary candidate from either party, reaching one million donors faster than any presidential campaign in history, The Wall Street Journal reports.
According to close observers, Sanders is not doing the usual debate preparation ahead of Tuesday's matchup.
“I’ve heard he is not doing traditional debate prep with someone standing in for Hillary Clinton or Gov. [Martin] O’Malley,” David Sterrett, a Vermont-based attorney and lobbyist and principal at Sterrett Law PLC, said. “But it doesn’t surprise me. I think, for 40 years in politics, he has really done things his own way and he has said he doesn’t want to prepare a bunch of gotcha lines or prepared attacks on his opponents. He has never done that and he is not comfortable with it. I think he thinks he can win doing it his own way.”
Instead, Sanders is said to be preparing to talk about issues. That's the strategy that is working with many Democrats who share his sharp criticisms of free markets - and many non-Democrats who appreciate his candor.
Sterrett, a longtime supporter who has been working on Sanders' campaigns since 1998, said the senator has “built his political career off his authenticity and sincerity."
Sanders’ rhetorical skill comes across in his 2011 book “The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class.” The 288-page volume is a verbatim record of an eight-and-a-half-hour speech Sanders gave in late 2011 in opposition to the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, which extended tax cuts for the wealthy and had been passed during the presidency of George W. Bush.
Sterrett said Sanders is not a “sound bite guy” and he is looking forward to how the candidate engages with the rest of the debate panel, which will include former Govs. Martin O'Malley of Maryland and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, along with former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia.
“There has been kind of a funny piece that is going around Vermont that says: ‘Listen to Bernie be consistent over 40 years,’ ” Sterrett said. “And it is a little bit like a broken record, but the guy has been worried about corporate power for over 40 years, and he has been fighting for civil rights since he was a college student at the University of Chicago 50 years ago.”