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Bernie Sanders in Clinton country

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Bernie Sanders spoke to the crowd before heading inside for a campaign rally in Amherst Jan. 2.
Bernie Sanders spoke to the crowd before heading inside for a campaign rally in Amherst Jan. 2.REUTERS

Massachusetts is Hillary Clinton country.

Except for Senator Elizabeth Warren, who coyly tweets sweet comments about Clinton rival Bernie Sanders but has yet to formally endorse in the 2016 presidential race.

And then there's the band of local legislative supporters behind Sanders as the Vermont senator takes on Clinton and the Democratic establishment.

This weekend, the Sanders campaign plans to formally open a Massachusetts headquarters in Charlestown, with backing from state Senator Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat, and a few other legislators: state Senator Pat Jehlen of Somerville; state Senator Dan Wolf of Harwich; and state Representatives Mary Keefe of Worcester and Paul Mark of Peru in Western Massachusetts

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That contrasts with the list of 190 Massachusetts endorsements Clinton released in December. Her "Massachusetts Leadership Council" includes Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, US Senator Edward Markey, state Attorney General Maura Healey, all nine Massachusetts US representatives, and 23 state senators.

Paul Feeney, the Massachusetts state director for the Sanders campaign, said the disparity doesn't bother him. Of Sanders' backers he said: "Everybody who signs on is an endorser."

But Sanders is also fighting for media coverage. The political press has come around to seeing an angry old business mogul as a possible presidential winner — but not an angry old socialist.

Donald Trump has tapped into a bilious anger on the right, making Muslims and immigrants the enemy of the people. Sanders taps into different anger on the left — against social injustice and economic inequality — and speaks to it with passion and purpose. But so far, it's smarter politics to make the vulnerable immigrant, rather than the Wall Street investment banker, the bad guy.

Trump's recent rally in Lowell drew national press coverage. And it's true, spectators (and counterprotesters) lined up for hours in the frigid cold before the event and packed Tsongas Center arena, which holds 8,000 people.

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However, according to The Berkshire Eagle, Sanders' supporters "turned out in droves" to last weekend's rally at the University of Massachusetts Amherst; the Sanders campaign put the number of attendees at about 4,000. And according to a Globe report, Sanders drew about 3,000 to a rally in Worcester.

"Whether or not the media covers us is not a question for this campaign," said Feeney. "We're just going to get to the voters and continue to do what we're doing."

What the Sanders campaign is doing is a version of what Deval Patrick did when he ran for governor and what Barack Obama did during his first 2008 presidential campaign. It's knocking on doors and building a classic grass-roots organization that promises to give the Clinton campaign a serious challenge in both New Hampshire and the Bay State.

In 2008, the Clinton network was able to beat Obama in New Hampshire and win a Massachusetts primary victory. This time, the Sanders brigade hopes to turn the tables on Clinton. The two are virtually tied in New Hampshire, according to recent polls.

The fight in Massachusetts may be more uphill. The last poll, albeit from November, had Clinton up by 25 points.

In that quest, Sanders has a not-so-secret secret weapon. He may not have Warren's endorsement, but he does have her very familiar message.

"Senator Sanders is talking about the rigged economy and the corrupt Wall Street system," said Feeney. "That's what Senator Warren has been talking about since she started campaigning. Their values are aligned."

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When Sanders went to Wall Street last week to denounce corporate America for "destroying the very fabric of our nation," Warren praised him with a tweet: "I'm glad @BernieSanders is out there fighting to hold big banks accountable, make our economy safer & stop the GOP from rigging the system."

As Politico reported, Sanders promised in his speech to reinstate a "21st century Glass-Steagall Act" that would draw lines between commercial and investment banking. He also praised the legislation introduced by Warren. Clinton has rejected Sanders' proposal for a Glass-Steagall replacement.

Of course, those are not the issues driving the 2016 race — at least, not so far. Sanders has influenced Clinton's rhetoric and moved her to the left on some issues. But the Democratic establishment doesn't believe Sanders is a candidate who ultimately can win the Oval office.

That doesn't discourage Massachusetts supporters like Feeney.

This weekend, the Sanders team plans to establish its Boston beachhead, drive north to New Hampshire — and then return to fight back home.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.