Sen. Bernie Sanders brought his second bid for president to the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday as his campaign attempts to again win over voters in a state Sanders is considering one of the nation’s key battlegrounds in 2020.
A thick crush of supporters followed Sanders, I-Vt., between radio and television interviews at local media booths, chanting his name and cheering as the senator at one point ducked into an arcade to shoot hoops.
Sanders’ progressive populist platform attracted uproarious applause at several stops across the fairgrounds. But in an interview earlier with the Star Tribune, he said “we’re taking nothing for granted” ahead of the state’s March 3 Super Tuesday primary, which is likely to include a vastly expanded field of candidates since his commanding 2016 win in the state.
“Different race, different year, different world,” Sanders said.
Included in the newly expanded field is Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has been mired in the single digits in most polls but remains popular in her home state. Sanders called Klobuchar, who entered the Senate with Sanders in 2006, a “personal friend” and described their platforms as “issue-oriented campaigns” that will resonate with working families.
Sanders’ visit came days after Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren stopped in the Twin Cities last week, making them the first top-tier candidates to visit a state that President Donald Trump has repeatedly vowed to win next year.
In an interview, and later speaking before a crowd of several hundred people at Minnesota Public Radio’s booth, Sanders lit into the president on Saturday, calling him “the most dangerous president in the history of this country” and “a pathological liar, a racist, a sexist, a homophobe and a xenophobe.”
“But in addition to defeating Trump, we’ve got to do more than that and we have to create an economy and a government that works for all of us and not just the 1%,” Sanders said in an interview.
Sanders’ campaign said that the senator is leading fundraising in 32 Minnesota counties and in the Twin Cities, and that thousands of active volunteers have held about 200 events in the state this year. Sanders’ Saturday schedule included a private dinner with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who this year again publicly endorsed Sanders’ campaign, and a “grassroots fundraiser” in Minneapolis.
Sanders is running on a platform that would represent a dramatic transformation in American politics. He has so far outlined ambitious progressive proposals like Medicare-for-all, tuition-free college and a recently launched $16 trillion “Green New Deal” climate plan.
While several 2020 Democratic candidates have since echoed many of the priorities that undergirded Sanders’ 2016 campaign, the wide field is also prompting an intraparty debate among candidates with more moderate, centrist records, such as Klobuchar and former Vice President Joe Biden.
“I fear very much that if we do not have a candidate who is going to be running an exciting and energetic campaign that creates the largest voter turnout by far in American history, who brings young people into the political process, Trump could win this election,” Sanders said.
Speaking for them
Martha Renville, 66, and her daughter, Allison Renville, 35, made the 3½-hour drive from Sisseton, S.D., to watch Sanders speak on Saturday. The Renvilles are part of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe, and Allison has helped organize for Sanders for several years.
“I think it’s really important that he has had the ability to amplify voices that hadn’t necessarily had even a seat at the table,” said Allison Renville, who welcomed Sanders to a visit with tribal leaders in South Dakota last week.
As Sanders exited the Playland arcade after a quick round of basketball, Sophia Valentino waved a copy of his book, prompting the senator to pause and scrawl an autograph on the cover. Moments later, Valentino bounced in excitement as she ran to show her husband, Noah.
Sophia Valentino, 31, of Minneapolis, is a green-card holder from China who is unable to vote but who said she still backs Sanders “because the way he speaks about immigration reform really touches my heart.”
Noah Valentino, 33, and a member of the Air National Guard, said he hasn’t wavered in his support of Sanders despite the expanded field of presidential candidates this time around.
“He has a sense of morality, his sense of duty to the American people as opposed to companies and corporations,” Noah Valentino said. “He’s organizing labor and he speaks to people in a way that’s different than all the other candidates and he’s been doing it for 40 years.”
Sanders will be 78 next month, and has fielded questions about why he should be the party’s nominee over what is its most diverse crop of candidates in history.
One such question, submitted by a Twitter user and read by MPR’s Tom Crann during his interview of Sanders, prompted boos from the sympathetic crowd and a quip from Sanders: “Follow me on the campaign trail.”
“Is age a factor? Sure,” Sanders said. “But so is experience, so is vision, so is track record.”