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Conspiracy Theories And Sighs Of Relief Among Sanders Faithful Ahead Of Debate

Hours before the third Democratic presidential debate, New Hampshire Bernie Sanders supporters gathered for the first time since the DNC flap that momentarily grounded the campaign. They were in surprisingly good spirits.

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MANCHESTER, N.H. — Scattered around banquet tables in the Armory Ballroom at the downtown Radisson hotel Saturday night, Bernie Sanders supporters waited for the third primary debate and swapped conspiracy theories about how the Democratic Party had orchestrated the debacle of the previous 48 hours.

The room was many things for the Sanders campaign: the homebase for Sanders’ pre-debate “visibility” effort — buses outside the Radisson took supporters with signs to stand outside St. Anselm College while media and the audience arrived for the debate — the site of the campaign’s Manchester debate watch party, and the first time Sanders supporters had gathered in a big group in the state since the the dust-up with the Democratic National Committee that crippled the Sanders campaign for two days.

BuzzFeed News spoke to around a half-dozen Sanders supporters at the event. Their take on the previous 48 hours: the Democratic conspiracy is real, and there’s no such thing as bad press coverage.

No one thought the Sanders campaign had erred, or that if it had erred, it wasn't enough to deserve the punishment doled out by the Democratic Party. The DNC's suspension of voter file access that had thrown the New Hampshire campaign into disarray was orchestrated, they said, by a Democratic Party looking to end the Sanders insurgency. “Sabotage” was the first word that came to mind for several Sanders backers when asked about the data breach.

The details of the various theories were elaborate, but all centered around an organized effort by Democrats to destroy Sanders. One theory posited DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz had personally appointed the aide who copied proprietary Hillary Clinton data and activated the mole when the time was right.

Data downloads by the other two campaigns went ignored, went another, and Sanders was the sole campaign to face punishment. The media was in on it, went the third.

“You can’t believe everything you read,” one supporter said.

But despite the agreement that vast and powerful forces were pitted against Sanders, the mood of the event was optimistic. Sanders was back in the news, supporters said, once again giving him a chance to spread his self-proclaimed style of democratic socialism over the airwaves.

“The corporate media is paying attention to Bernie Sanders!” Nina Turner, a former Ohio state representative who is one of Sanders’ most prominent surrogates, exclaimed as she stood among the banquet tables set up in the Armory in the downtown Radisson. The site was to play host to a Sanders debate-watch buffet dinner where Turner was scheduled to speak. Sanders was scheduled to make an appearance after the event.

The “any coverage is good coverage” take on the data breach didn’t exist in a vacuum. In the days before the flap over Clinton data briefly threw the Democratic primary into pandemonium, the Sanders campaign had been touting a so-called “Bernie Blackout on Corporate Network News.” When the DNC suspended the Sanders campaign's access to the party’s national voter file, Sanders aides became the go-to story for political reporters for a full day.

The Sanders faithful sipping Dunkin Donuts coffee at the Radisson and waiting for the debate said, if nothing else, the media blackout ended when the DNC shut off the voter file.

“Look at Donald Trump. He gets on the news all the time just because he says crazy things,” said Elise, a middle-aged Sanders supporter from Milford. “Any news about Bernie these days I’m going to take as good news.”

Evan McMorris-Santoro is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News.

Contact Evan McMorris-Santoro at evan@buzzfeed.com.

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