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Longest-serving woman in the House makes her case for Bernie Sanders

Senator Bernie Sanders spoke at a rally Tuesday in Keene, N.H.
Senator Bernie Sanders spoke at a rally Tuesday in Keene, N.H.(John Blanding/globe staff)

A few minutes after the CNN town hall for Democratic candidates ended Wednesday night, a former White House speechwriter amplified the swelling chorus of Obama alumni rallying to the cause of Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders.

“Who has written the most persuasive case for Bernie’s electability?” tweeted Jon Lovett, who previously worked for Clinton and helped produce “The Newsroom” on HBO. “I want to understand how people are convincing themselves.”

Consider longtime Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur pretty well convinced.

The longest-serving woman in the US House, Kaptur, a Democrat officially neutral in the race, called Sanders “the only voice we’ve had the last three decades, of all these presidential candidates, who is actually talking about the economic issues that are actually affecting American families.”

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Kaptur, a longtime ally of organized labor and outspoken opponent of President Clinton’s free-trade policies, stopped just shy of endorsing Sanders, but praised him for his ideological consistency.

“He hasn’t changed anything, and people are hearing the message now. Unvarnished, now, for the first time in my career,” she told the Globe in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “First time in my career that I’ve heard a candidate give voice to what we’ve been struggling for and against in this Congress for the last quarter century.”

She contrasted that with Clinton, saying, “I must say that when Secretary Clinton was secretary of state, I don’t recall her ever attempting to balance [free-trade agreements] or change them in any way.”

As polls showed a tight race in the Iowa caucuses, which Clinton narrowly won Monday, and depicted Sanders far ahead in New Hampshire, the Democratic establishment has rallied behind Clinton. Several former Obama aides have weighed in publicly on her behalf.

A Toldeo Democrat and member of the House Progressive Caucus, Kaptur said her comments Wednesday were her most discursive yet about Sanders’s candidacy, and came in response to a question about the day’s back-and-forth between Sanders and Clinton over progressive credentials.

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Much of the sizzle in the Democratic primary has focused on Sanders’s ability to corral the energy in the party’s left-wing base, assailing Wall Street and pushing populist rhetoric. In Wednesday night’s town hall, Clinton pushed back, arguing that she and Sanders share the same goals. But she also stumbled over questions about her six-figure payments for speeches to investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Said Kaptur, “Senator Sanders has always been there. He has never been a ‘Johnny-Come-Lately’ and he has never changed positions.”

Kaptur said Clinton had belatedly come to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, noting, “Senator Sanders was there from the very beginning.”

“The issue that has been the most cutting for the American people has been their economic welfare,” Kaptur said. “Over the last quarter century, they have been dealt such heavy blows. I have always regarded Senator Sanders as one of the most pristine voices on their behalf, whether it was auto workers in Ohio or farm workers from New Mexico.”

Comparing Sanders to former President Harry Truman, Kaptur said, “In many ways, his struggle in this campaign is very noble, because he is up against the most powerful forces, economic forces, that have caused so much harm … They’ll try to diminish him. I admire the fact that he’s running, that he is an agent of change in our society, and he doesn’t have the billionaire class lined up behind him. He’s a senator from Vermont.”

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Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at jim.osullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.