U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders brought his message of economic populism to Durham ahead of North Carolina’s Super Tuesday primary. Sanders was joined by local community leaders and national campaign surrogates at a rally held in the Durham Convention Center on Friday morning.
Several hundred people began crowding into the ballroom the rally was held in as early as two hours before the scheduled start time.
When Sanders took the stage, he outlined his vision for the country and asked voters to unite against President Donald Trump.
“The American people, regardless of their political views, understand that we cannot continue having a President of the United States who is a pathological liar, who is running a corrupt administration, who does not respect our Constitution or democracy, who thinks that he is above the law, who is a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a xenophobe and a religious bigot,” Sanders said.
The audience included students, some of whom were already Sanders supporters and some still trying to decide before the March 3 primary.
“I feel like he’s the best candidate in the field,” said Noah Blutreich, a UNC student. “I hope that he wins here.”
Blutreich attended the rally with Mary Hunter Russell, also a UNC student, who said she was undecided.
“I am here to kind of experience the environment and hear out if that is who I want to support," said Hunter Russell.
Students who attended said that the some of their most important issues for voting included climate change, health care and corporations.
“I think we’re both really interested in the Green New Deal,” said Lucy Callard, a Duke student. “As young people, climate change is kind of the top thing on our mind, and Bernie really speaks to that.”
Callard said she hasn't made up her mind but is leaning toward Sanders.
“I’m interested to hear about his Medicare plan, and his overall plan to beat Trump in the fall,” Blutreich said.
Also in attendance was Carrboro Town Council member Damon Seils, who has endorsed Sanders.
“I think for me what it comes down to is we have to not only elect a president, but we have to build a movement. I think Bernie’s campaign is a vehicle for that,” Seils said on his way into the building. “I think he’s attracting support from a much more diverse group of people and potential voters than other candidates.”
Seils said working in local governance also played a part in his support.
“We need better partners at the state and federal levels in local government,” Seils said. “I would say one of our biggest challenges in local government is in a lot of ways we’re on our own right now, and we’re unable to achieve a lot of the goals we’ve set for ourselves around transportation, infrastructure, housing, all of those major issues that are important for us.”
The event started with a series of brief remarks by local organizers and community leaders. The first speaker was a field organizer from the Sanders campaign, Katherine Gan, who said the campaign would be leading a group over to early voting after the rally.
Other speakers included Durham City Council member Jillian Johnson, Orange County school board candidate LaTarndra Strong, N.C. Democratic Party Vice Chairperson Nida Allam, N.C. Senate candidate Pierce Freelon and actress Susan Sarandon.
Introducing Sanders was former Ohio state senator and Sanders campaign co-chairperson Nina Turner. Turner compared Sanders’ platform and policies to those of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr., saying his ideas are not new.
“We’re not going to do ‘Yes We Can’ and then all of a sudden have all these Democrats bandying President Obama’s image on their commercials,” Turner said, before segueing into a criticism of former New York City mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg for his stop-and-frisk and redline policies. Bloomberg campaigned in North Carolina Thursday.
There were few issues that Sanders did not address in his stump speech, which included economic inequality, education, gender inequality, racial inequality, criminal justice reform, climate change, abortion and gun control. He also spoke about why he thought student debt should be canceled and asked the room how many people were dealing with student debt.
“You know what I think? 11 years ago, Congress bailed out the crooks on Wall Street. Two years ago, Trump and his friends gave a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the 1 percent and large corporations,” Sanders said. “Well, if Congress can do that, you know what I think we can do? We should cancel all student debt in America.”
Sanders also reiterated one of his most well-known campaign policies, Medicare for All, which would create a national single-payer health care system.
“Health care, whether you are rich or middle class or poor, health care is a human right, not a privilege,” he said. “And the function of a rational and human health care system is to guarantee health care to all, not to make $100 billion in profits for the insurance companies and the drug companies.”
Sanders closed the rally talking about the movement he said his campaign has created and said it was more powerful than billionaires or candidates with billionaire donors.
“Our campaign is not just about beating Trump,” Sanders said. “Our campaign is putting together an unprecedented multi-generational, multi-racial coalition of millions of people.”
North Carolina’s primary election will be held on March 3 and early voting runs through Feb. 29.
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