Leo Solovyov (r) infects his peers -- and even some adults -- with Bernie fever at his first political event. (KCAW photo/Brody Armstrong)

Leo Solovyov (r) infects his peers — and even some adults — with Bernie fever at his first political event. (KCAW photo/Brody Armstrong)

With 15 months to go until the 2016 presidential election, campaigns are revving up. And an unexpected candidate has captured the attention of many young people: Bernie Sanders, the 73- year-old U.S. Senator from Vermont, and self-described “democratic socialist.”

KCAW’s Brody Armstrong brings us the story of one young Sitkan trying to bring Bernie fever to Southeast.

Downloadable audio.

I’m sitting in Leo Solovyov’s bedroom, watching him while he sits at his desk struggling to find the right words for an invitation.

Solovyov: I am Eugene’s son… A recent… I don’t know how to phrase this… And a recent high school grad? No.

Like me, Leo is a recent Sitka High School grad. He’s organizing “Brownies with Bernie,” Sitka’s version of a nationwide gathering to watch Bernie Sanders make his kickoff campaign speech.

It’s the first political event Leo has set up himself. For him, the choice in the 2016 presidential election is obvious.

Solovyov: Bernie Sanders seems to be the only candidate in the 2016 election so far that truly values and represents the average American citizen.

But just about every candidate claims to represent the average citizen.

KCAW: Why Bernie Sanders? What is so exciting, what is so different about Bernie Sanders?
Solovyov: Well, the obvious answer is that he tells the truth…He won’t say: ‘Oh, climate change isn’t real, you know, like money in politics isn’t a big deal.’ Like, he’ll actually address these issues.

I’m sitting in the Backdoor Cafe with someone Leo has gotten plenty of advice from and has volunteered under for more than a month, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins.

Kreiss-Tomkins: I am at Leo’s beck and call. Because I think it’s great that you’re basically trying to effect change no matter one’s age.

Kreiss-Tomkins should know. He was just 13 when he started organizing for Vermont governor Howard Dean, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. He says there’s a real symmetry between his and Leo’s interest in a Vermont politician’s dark horse campaign.

Kreiss-Tomkins: It can be difficult to get traction, I had the benefit of being anonymous online doing a lot of my organizing work so I never would disclose my age and I’d be treated as an adult –which was terrific. In fact, campaign staff in Burlington, Vermont, didn’t know they were working with a 13-year-old until I was about to fly out there.

He may have been 13, but he took a systematic approach when choosing his candidate.

Kreiss-Tomkins: And I actually was just going through my old – I was going through just big cardboard boxes of stuff, and came across a couple of giant spreadsheets that I created when I was – the summer of 2002 when I was thirteen, projecting all of the federal and state elections for that year. On election night, I would sit down and have all my predictions typed in and then I would start filling it out – kind of like bingo, you know, you have your, like, your bingo card and you sort of fill out when the numbers are read. So as the races were called, and I would be checking precinct returns in Michigan, or whatever, I would sort of fill out, and see how I would do.

Solovyov displays the poster that drew a larger-than-expected crowd to his home to listen to the senator speak.

Solovyov displays the poster that drew a larger-than-expected crowd to his home to listen to the senator speak.

For Leo, it’s less about spreadsheets, and more about posters. I follow him to places like McDonald’s and SeaMart — anywhere there’s a bulletin board around Sitka — where he pins up posters to spread the word about his Vermont candidate.

KCAW: What are we doing here? Where are we?
Solovyov: We’re at Seamart.
KCAW: Set the scene.
Solovyov: We’re at Seamart, there’s a couple of people around, that’s it… Okay, so we’re looking for a good spot to put this ‘Brownies with Bernie’ poster up – It has five pictures of his face, brownies, information, a little bit of information, a little bit of information, and it’s blue and red. So, let’s go for this spot right here.

And all that organizing seems to have paid off.

About 35 people have turned out for Brownies with Bernie, which is well over Leo’s goal of 20. The crowd in Leo’s living room is about half high school students.

As for the speech: Sanders condemns income inequality and corporate greed, pointing his fingers and sternly telling his over 100,000 livestream viewers that “enough is enough.”

Among the attendees, three are from out of state — two from Washington and one from Canada. The Canadian offered an outsider’s view on the American system.

“The attitude of Americans has to change about what’s acceptable. Like why is it that the middle class is stagnant, and that we don’t have health care? How did that not happen?”

Now I have only one, final question for Leo.

KCAW: Do you think America is ready for Bernie Sanders?
Solovyov: I think so, I think so. And I think – yeah, I think it’s time for Bernie Sanders.

And with the state caucuses seven months away, we’ll find out if Alaska agrees.

Note: Brody Armstrong is a 2015 graduate of Sitka High who spent the spring as KCAW’s student news intern. He’ll be attending Ithaca College in the fall.