In his first visit to Nevada as a 2020 presidential candidate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders made clear he intends to highlight the same issues that defined his 2016 bid by railing against income inequality and the influence of big money in politics.
This time around the 77-year-old senator is a frontrunner. He trails behind only former vice president Joe Biden, who has yet to enter the race, according to a recent Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll.
It’s unclear whether Sanders can replicate the fervent support that defined his last run with a crowded and diverse field of Democratic candidates. But his fundraising ability — $6 million from 223,000 individuals within 24 hours — experience, and widespread name recognition demonstrate he has entered the race as a political force.
The size of crowds at Sanders rallies — his campaign estimated roughly 2,000 people attended the Henderson rally — similarly reveal how his populist, anti-establishment message continues to resonate with voters, who warmly received him by yelling,”We love you Bernie!” and several cheers of his name.
Stepping up to the podium Sanders addressed an injury his campaign said he sustained after cutting his head on a glass shower door that resulted in seven stitches on Friday.
“It’s okay, it’ll take more than a little black eye to stop me,” said Sanders, a large gauze bandage peeking out beneath a gray Golden Knights baseball cap.
In his speech, Sanders said no president can create effective change unless “tens of millions of people stand up together” calling on the audience to get involved in grassroots politics. The crowd cheered when he attacked the criminal justice system as broken, college debt, and “starvation wages” and booed when he criticized Wall Street, the high cost of prescription drugs, and large corporations like Amazon, Netflix and General Motors skirting federal taxes.
“Real change never occurs from the top on down. It’s always from the bottom on up,” Sanders said.
Sanders took credit for popularizing progressive ideas like a $15 minimum wage, free college and Medicare-for-all which were considered “ too radical,” he said, but are now mainstream in the Democratic Party. “Those ideas are now supported by Democratic candidates from school board to president of the United States,” he said.
During his rally, Sanders rhetoric largely echoed that of his previous run as he railed against insurance and pharmaceutical companies for inflated drug prices, big banks for crashing the economy, and multinational corporations for not paying a living wage.
“The Walton family, the family that owns Walmart is worth 170 billion dollars. Well if you are worth a 170 billion dollars pay your workers a living wage,” Sanders said to a cheering crowd.
In a message to the healthcare industry and insurance companies Sanders said he would push for universal healthcare adding, “whether you like it or not we are going to pass a Medicare for all single payer program.”
The message was well received by the crowd who interrupted Sander’s speech with a message of their own.
Sanders only managed to say, “And today we say to the pharmaceutical industry—” before one man interrupted to finish the sentence with a, “F–k you!” to which the audience responded with laughter and cheering.
“That’s one way of phrasing it,” Sanders continued in good humor. “But we are certainly going to say to them that you are no longer going to rip off the American people.”
Sanders also made a point to advocate for more access to childcare for low income families and universal preschool — a message that is not dissimilar to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s platform. He also talked about the many crises facing rural residents like vanishing health care centers and hospitals.
The senator also spoke more about his personal narrative — a major change from his 2016 run.
“My family lived paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “I know where I come from, and I that is something I will never forget.”
He contrasted his upbringing from a working class family to President Donald Trump’s privilege and inheritance while criticizing the president for attempting to cut social programs and “trying to divide our people up” with divisive rhetoric.
“Trump’s budget is basically about the Robin Hood principle in reverse. It takes from the poor and working people and gives more tax breaks to the rich and large corporations,” Sanders said.
“We are building this campaign to win and are playing to win,” said Sanders campaign manager, Faiz Shakir in a conference call with reporters earlier in the week. “There will be two questions that will resolve this primary, the first being who can best defeat Donald Trump and the second being who do we trust to make the change we need.”
Nevada, the first-in-the-West caucus state, will test presidential hopefuls strength among a more diverse voting block which the Sanders has been criticized for failing to reach effectively in his last campaign.
Sanders ultimately lost to Hillary Clinton in Nevada’s 2016 Democratic caucus. On the conference call with reporters, Sanders campaign officials said they were building robust ground teams in the early voting states, adding that the senator’s name recognition would propel him further this time around.
“Last time we started at zero and had to introduce the senator to voters around the country,” said Sander’s senior campaign advisor Jeff Weaver. “Now they know him.”