Sanders 2020 Kicks Off With Aggressive Rallies
Sen. Bernie Sanders brought it all back home this weekend, hosting a pair of boisterous rallies in two cities he credited for a political awakening that set him on a path that could, as he launches his second presidential campaign, deliver him to the White House.
In Chicago on Sunday night, Sanders again offered a rare public embrace of his roots, telling supporters at Navy Pier’s Festival Hall that his years here as a student activist were “an extraordinary moment in my life and very much shaped my world view and what I wanted to do.”
But even as Sanders broadened the scope of his stump speech to include more details about his youth, his message never strayed far from the core argument that would vault him to political stardom decades later. Sanders’ vow to uproot and discard the private health insurance industry and deliver a single-payer system still drew the loudest applause from an already spirited crowd. The twin spectacles of Brooklyn and Chicago will also validate the belief among Sanders’ allies that his support is stickier than many observers, including some wishful Democrats, might have hoped or predicted.
The Sanders campaign’s goal now, it has become increasingly clear, is to lock in the base — which in the first week of his candidacy delivered more than a million volunteer sign-ups and a remarkable $10 million in small dollar donations — while seeking out fresh lines of connection to the unconvinced. In an interview before the trip, campaign co-chair Nina Turner described Sanders’ task nearly a year out from the Iowa caucuses as “layering on top of what he did in 2016.”
“The Democratic Party has adopted so much of his platform, so he won the moral argument in 2016,” Turner said. “Now what he has to do is help people to see ‘the why,’ the reason why he’s doing this, what drives him.”
On Sunday, Sanders’ “layering” led him to offer an unusually blunt explanation of his view of race in the context of a now-familiar political message.
“Our campaign, as you know, is about fundamentally ending the disparity of wealth and power in our country, when so few have so much and so many have so little. But as we do that,” he said, “we must end the disparity within the disparity.”
Sanders also continued to speak, as he did in Brooklyn, in more personal terms about the experiences that inspired his political career. It is a new brand of outreach that plainly discomforts him and, as he teed up the biographical sections of his weekend speeches, Sanders sounded almost apologetic for digressing.
“You deserve to know where I come from, because family history obviously heavily influences the values that we develop as adults,” Sanders said on Saturday, as if justifying the introduction of a new riff to an audience that came out to hear the old standards.
An African-American singer led the national anthem at Bernie Sanders’s campaign kickoff here Sunday, while speakers of color offered testimonials to the Vermont senator’s civil rights activism.
Sanders had a problem with black voters in the 2016 Democratic primary, losing them by a whopping 50 percentage point margin to the party’s eventual nominee, Hillary Clinton. In words and deeds, Sanders is signaling his intent to make up ground in that community in 2020 — but must do so in a large and diverse field of primary competitors, and in a political environment under the Trump presidency that has made racial issues more fraught and divisive than ever.
“Bernie’s always stumbled on issues of race and his use of class as a catch-all gives the impression that he’s either unable or unwilling to address the specific concerns of African-Americans or he’s trying to avoid what he feels is identity politics,” said Basil Smikle, a former executive director of the New York State Democratic Party.
Sanders seemed to reinforce that tendency in one of his first interviews after announcing his decision to enter the 2020 Democratic field last month.
“We have got to look at candidates not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or gender and not by their age,” he told Vermont Public Radio. “I think we have got to try to move us toward a nondiscriminatory society that looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for.”
Since then, he’s appeared to ramp up efforts to address the unique challenges facing black Americans that critics complained were missing the last time around. Black voters are approximately 4 in 10 Democratic primary voters, and competition for their support is already fierce.
In a field of contenders that includes black and Latino candidates and five women, one of whom — Kamala Harris — is African-American, Sanders has taken other steps to diversify his campaign effort this time. Aides acknowledge his 2016 team was too white and male. Adding more people of color and more women became a key effort after former aides were accused of sexual harassment and abuse during the 2016 contest.
Sanders will return to the Midwest in a few days with a charge to do the same when he makes his 2020 Iowa debut. On Thursday, he will hold a rally at Council Bluffs’ Mid-America Center, an arena with a listed “concert capacity” of 8,000. President Donald Trump, who held an event there last October, will surely be watching the gate.
A day later, Sanders will be in Iowa City, where the University of Iowa’s campus Democrats and the city’s Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter will cohost a rally in a ballroom that fits more than 1,000 people. Then it’s on to Des Moines for a Saturday morning event on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
Sanders dueled Clinton to just short of a stalemate in Iowa during the last primary, but he won’t be sneaking up on anyone in 2020. Anything short of outright victory in the Hawkeye State and New Hampshire, which Sanders won handily in 2016, could send his campaign sputtering into what are expected to be more challenging competitions in Nevada, South Carolina and California, which moved its primary up to Super Tuesday.
But California seemed a long way off on Sunday night in Chicago, where patches of Lake Michigan sat icily still as its waves labored toward its western bank. Inside Navy Pier’s cavernous Festival Hall, as Sanders left the stage to the Doobie Brothers’ “Taking It To The Streets” the heat of the 2020 presidential primary was steadily rising.
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