Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders tried Tuesday to leverage his popularity among Minnesota college students and DFLers on behalf of his former Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, while calling Republican Donald Trump “the worst candidate for president in the modern history of the United States.”
Sanders’ message of political revolution found one of its most receptive audiences in Minnesota earlier this year. Though here this time to plug Clinton, his afternoon rally on the University of Minnesota campus sounded most of the same notes of his unexpectedly spirited outsider campaign.
“Real change never comes from the top on down, it comes from the bottom up,” Sanders told more than 2,000 people gathered inside Northrop auditorium. He emphasized his signature issues: income inequality and Wall Street greed’s effect on the middle class; the urgency of climate change; the necessity of changes to the criminal justice system, and the need to make college more affordable.
“Our job is to elect Hillary Clinton, but on the day after, we continue the movement,” Sanders said in a speech just short of 30 minutes.
Sanders held a second campus rally on Tuesday evening at the University of Minnesota Duluth. His stops at the state’s two biggest public universities underlined the Clinton campaign’s recent emphasis on turning out millennial voters energized by Sanders’ campaign.
In Minnesota’s presidential caucus last March, Sanders soundly defeated Clinton by a margin of 62 to 38 percent. It was among his stronger showings nationwide, but not enough to stop Clinton from clinching the Democratic nomination in June.
Sanders has been campaigning for Clinton in recent weeks, an important player in her effort to woo millennial voters. Younger voters tend to lean liberal but also vote in fewer numbers, leaving Clinton and allies to try to figure out ways to motivate them to the polls.
Polls, including in Minnesota, consistently show Clinton besting Trump among voters under 35 — but not nearly at the levels by which President Obama beat Republican Mitt Romney in 2012.
DFL strategists worry that low turnout by young voters this cycle could drag down Clinton’s overall margin here. Even if she wins Minnesota, a close race would likely deprive DFL candidates down the ballot of the kind of lift that Obama’s popularity provided in 2008 and 2012.
The spokesman for Trump’s campaign in Minnesota said Sanders came “to manufacture a portrait of enthusiasm” for Clinton’s candidacy.
“Millennial voters are deserting you not just because we know what you really think of us,” state director Andy Post said in a statement, in reference to a recently hacked audiotape of Clinton that Republicans have portrayed as condescending toward younger voters. “We are tired of career Washington politicians who represent the failed policies of the past, and we will vote for change in November.”
The tape in question, of remarks Clinton made to supporters last February, was posted late last week by a conservative Washington website. She refers to Sanders supporters as “children of the Great Recession” and “living in their parents’ basement.” She sympathizes with their economic plight and says “we all should be really understanding of that,” but also suggests Sanders offered “false promises” to his supporters.
Sanders told the Star Tribune on Tuesday that he found Clinton’s remarks honest and not insulting to his supporters.
“All she was saying is we have a lot of young people in the United States with a decent education who cannot find jobs commensurate with that education,” Sanders said. “That happens to be true, and that’s what I said.”
In his Star Tribune interview, Sanders said there should be no surprise why he did well with younger voters.
“Young people are by definition idealistic, and they know the country we have today is not the country we could be,” Sanders said. He said Clinton offers progress on issues of concern to younger voters while Trump would mean losing ground.
“What a setback it would be to everything we believe in if Donald Trump were to become president,” Sanders said.
Many at the afternoon rally were decked out in Sanders-for-president campaign gear. Matt Pappas, an 18-year-old first-year student from Coon Rapids in a red Sanders T-shirt, said Clinton doesn’t have his vote — yet.
“I’m definitely not voting for Trump,” Pappas said. “The Democratic Party had a choice in the primary, and I’m not obligated to fix their mistake.”
His friend and fellow freshman, Aaron Mansdoerfer also went for Sanders but has made his peace with Clinton.
“I think she’s a hawk on foreign policy and I don’t like that, but I can stomach it,” said Mansdoerfer, who is from St. Louis. “I’ll vote for her because of education, because of environmental policy, because of the Supreme Court. We can’t have another Antonin Scalia for the next 60 years.”