Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders urged hundreds of supporters in St. Louis on Monday to back his campaign, saying he is more progressive than former Vice President Joe Biden.
Sanders may need to do well in Tuesday’s Missouri primary in order to regain a foothold for his campaign — especially since he came close to winning the state in 2016.
During a speech at a packed Stifel Theatre in St. Louis, Sanders’ speech ticked off the priorities he would champion if he were elected president: making higher education more affordable, fighting climate change, passing more restrictive gun laws and expanding health care to every American.
“What is so radical and extreme about those ideas?” Sanders said. “Not only are they not radical and extreme, they are exactly what the American people want.”
While most of his speech steered clear of criticizing Biden, he did spend a few minutes contrasting his record with the Democratic frontrunner. He said, for instance, that he voted against the Iraq War, while Biden voted for it. And he said that Biden voted for “disastrous” trade deals like NAFTA, adding that Biden’s support for those agreements would be an albatross in a race against President Donald Trump.
“Joe Biden is a friend of mine; Joe and I have known each other for many years,” Sanders said. “Joe said he will support me if I win a nomination. I said I will support him. Because we want to beat Trump. That goes without saying. But here's my point: If you are talking to working class people all over this country, who is better able to win their support?”
He also spent a good chunk of his speech talking about the coronavirus, and emphasized that if he’s president he would make any future vaccine for the disease free to all Americans.
“We are uniquely prepared to take on the pharmaceutical industry, which in some cases charges as much as 10 times as much for the same exact drug that's sold abroad,” Sanders said.
Doing well in Missouri could be critical for Sanders, especially since he came less than 2,000 votes of winning the state in 2016. If he can’t replicate that result, it could be a sign that momentum has continued to shift toward Biden.
Many of Missouri’s high-level Democratic officials have endorsed Biden, such as St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, former Gov. Jay Nixon and former U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan. But Sanders does have support from some officials in St. Louis, including St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones.
“In the midst of these trying times, our neighbors might say this election is too risky to go with Sen. Sanders. I say hell no.” Jones said. “He knows that incremental change only changes the lives for a few. He wants to change lives for the masses.”
Sanders has been able to raise significantly more money during his 2020 campaign than in 2016 — and has been organizing around Missouri for months. Some of his backers also hope that his positions on key issues will stand out with voters.
State Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, said Sanders has been consistent on a multitude of issues, including wanting to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Before he was elected to the Missouri House, Aldridge was a backer of the Fight for $15 movement.
“Bernie Sanders has been the only candidate that has constantly said we need to make sure no matter where you work, you deserve a livable wage,” Aldridge said.
Sanders said he would be able to supercharge turnout among groups of people that don’t typically vote in large numbers, including younger Americans.
“We need to attract people who often do not vote into the political process if we’re going to beat Trump,” Sanders said. “Young people in America are today the most progressive young generation in the history of this country.”
One of the younger voters that plans to support Sanders is Rich Lewis, who cited Sanders’ positions on health care and immigration policy as reasons for his support.
‘“Every single person I know has been affected in some way by I think failures of the American state. My friends are without insurance,” Lewis said. “My sister's adopted from Guatemala, and under the Trump administration adopted citizens have been deported. It's a huge issue for me. I'm ready to see some real positive change in this country.”
St. Louis resident Scott Randall said he was attracted to Sanders’ message of “unity and solidarity — and giving people equal opportunities to live their lives.”
“It’s obviously important for him to win states and delegates,” Randall said. “I’m just excited to see him winning my home state.”
Ashley Tsi, who is originally from California, said Sanders is the only candidate “that truly cares about the people.”
“And the most important issue to me is Medicare for All,” Tsi said. “And it really should not be a radical idea for everyone to get medical care regardless of socioeconomic status.”
In addition to Missouri’s primary on Tuesday, Democratic voters in Michigan, Mississippi, Washington and Idaho will also go to the polls. Illinois voters will cast their primary ballots March 17.
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