Susan Sarandon wins the crowd at Sanders rally

Vermont senator and Hillary Clinton running neck and neck in days before Iowa caucus

Susan Sarandon, a long-time political activist, lit up the crowd at the Sondheim Centre for the Performing Arts in Fairfield on Thursday as she stumped for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.

The Hollywood actor joined Sanders at his rally in this liberal stronghold in a rural conservative state to convince voters that he, not Hillary Clinton, is the consistent progressive.

The Vermont senator is on a final push through Iowa before the first presidential votes are cast in the state’s caucuses on Monday.

Polls show Mr Sanders and Ms Clinton neck and neck in a state contest that, if he wins, could give him momentum in later states.

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Sarandon told a 900-strong crowd in southeastern Iowa that she had met “a lot of resistance and a lot of sexist talk” for not supporting a woman. The most important thing was the “moral courage of consistency on issues through the years”, she said.

Without naming her, she drew stark contrast between Clinton and Mr Sanders, telling the star-struck crowd that the socialist had not changed views to follow popular opinion. The actor noted how Mr Sanders "courageously" voted against the war in Iraq. (Ms Clinton voted the other way.)

“He has been in the right place saying the right things way before the tide has turned to make it safe,” she said.

Mr Sanders took up the same theme after being greeted with thunderous applause.

“It’s easy to swim with the tide,” said the insurgent Independent, ticking a checklist of liberal policies he has supported over the years, “but when the going gets rough, some of us were there and some of us were not.”

A long-time supporter of same-same sex marriage, Mr Sanders referred to the Defence of Marriage Act which was signed into law by Ms Clinton's husband, former president Bill Clinton. "I don't have to apologise because I voted against Doma," he barked in his characteristic growl, to a roar from the crowd.

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The rally was held just hours after Mr Sanders released one of his strongest ads against Ms Clinton. Although he does not name her, he draws attention to the role played by Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs – a big donor to Ms Clinton – in the 2008 financial crash.

Polls show Mr Sanders outperforming Ms Clinton among young people and, unusually, young women.

“I don’t actually trust her, she would pander to corporate interests,” said Amanda Kesler (39), a graphic artist from Fairfield standing at the back of the rally.

Sam Bone (22), a student at Fairfield’s Maharishi University, thinks Ms Clinton is not authentic. “All of us have been a little bit hurt by the current system,” he said, speaking for millennials, “and it goes a lot deeper than politics. I believe Bernie is a sign of something good that is gaining momentum.”

Some think momentum will only build. “He was down 40, 50 points six months ago and now it is deadlocked,” said Tim O’Connor, from nearby Cantril. “It is just going to snowball. The revolution is here.”

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent