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In Sanders country, many supporters fear he can't win

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If there is one place in America where Senator Sanders is loved more than any other, it is Burlington, the largest city in the small state bordering Canada where the child of Brooklyn, New York settled in the late 1960s.

[BURLINGTON, United States] Bernie Sanders isn't short of supporters in his Vermont stronghold, but many appear hesitant to vote for him on Super Tuesday out of fear the self-described "democratic socialist" can't beat the party establishment or win the White House.

If there is one place in America where Senator Sanders is loved more than any other, it is Burlington, the largest city in the small state bordering Canada where the child of Brooklyn, New York settled in the late 1960s.

From there, first as a mayor in the 1980s, then as a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, Mr Sanders, 78, has championed the people and proven that he can form broad coalitions.

"We have knocked on two million doors, from California to Maine. We have a grassroots movement all over the country," he told journalists as he voted alongside his wife Jane O'Meara.

"To beat Trump ... we need energy, we need excitement, and I think our campaign is that campaign," Mr Sanders added

And while everyone there is certain he will win the Vermont primary, the least populous of the 14 states voting on Tuesday, many wonder whether he can rally broad enough support to defeat Donald Trump in November if Sanders wins the Democratic nomination.

"I like him. I think he's real, and he's honest, and I think he really cares about people and about the country," says 77-year-old Miriam Burns, who campaigned for Mr Sanders in 2016 when he lost to Hillary Clinton.

"But I'm not sure if I'm gonna vote for him. I don't know if he can beat Trump (and) it scares me.

"We're so divided. With Trump and everything that's happened, and with the Republicans being so strong, it is just I'm really worried about the country," she told AFP.

If Ms Burns opts for a more centrist candidate, then she says she is going to vote for former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, the embodiment of the rich elite that Sanders rails against daily.

'WORRIED ABOUT THE COUNTRY' 

Nat Caldwell - a 52-year-old college fundraiser - says he is also going to vote for Mr Bloomberg, who is on the ballot for the first time on Tuesday, fearing that Mr Sanders cannot not win nationally.

"I think it's time for pragmatism and not ideology," he told AFP.

"This is a bubble up here, a liberal bubble. It makes for a lovely place to live in many respects, but I don't know that it translates in the rest of the country right now," he added.

Although sympathetic towards Mr Sanders, 53-year-old firefighter Sean Ploof, followed his union's orders and voted for former vice-president Joe Biden even though he doesn't think he can beat Mr Trump.

Sanders fans, thousands of whom are expected to attend a rally with their hero in Burlington Tuesday evening, are worried that moderates Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Beto O'Rourke endorsed Mr Biden after dropping out of the presidential race.

Jane Stromberg, a 24-year-old environmental researcher at the University of Vermont and a city council candidate, considers Mr Sanders "the most consistent politician in American political history.

"(But) it's Bernie against the Democratic establishment. So it's gonna be hard," she told AFP.

Ms Stromberg believes, however, that Sanders has a better chance to win the Democratic nomination than he did four years ago when he pushed establishment favourite Clinton to the wire.

Trish Siplon, a local political science professor, is convinced Mr Sanders has an excellent chance of securing the nomination but says attempts by moderates to block his path makes it more difficult.

"Yeah, I am worried about that," the 53-year-old told AFP.

She dreads a scenario where Mr Sanders arrives at July's nominating conference in Milwaukee with the most delegates but shy of a majority, only for the centrist wing of the party to deny him the nomination in favor of a moderate.

"I think that would be disastrous, not just because he's my candidate, but also because I think it will be terrible for the Democratic party.

"The Democratic party should think long and hard about whether they want to alienate the voters who are the future of the party," said Prof Siplon.

AFP