ROCHESTER, Minn. — Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders rallied supporters Thursday with a call to band together in order to fix a "rigged economy."
The Vermont senator wasted little time in tossing around the populist messages that are central to his campaign for the Democratic party's nomination: tackling income inequality, raising the federal minimum wage, offering free tuition at public colleges and dismantling Wall Street's largest financial institutions. But he told the crowd of more than 600 supporters in Rochester that he couldn't make those changes even if he overcomes front runner Hillary Rodham Clinton and wins the presidency in 2016.
"I cannot accomplish what has to be accomplished as president unless there is a mass, grass-roots movement of millions and millions of people," Sanders said. "I can't save you, but together we can save ourselves."
Sanders' visit was his second to Minnesota, following a May appearance in Minneapolis. Combined with Wednesday's stop in Madison, Wisconsin, which drew massive crowds, he's showing he's not just favoring the typical circuit of early-voting states like New Hampshire and Iowa as he makes the rounds to Democratic strongholds and tries to energize the progressive wing of the party.
The self-described Democratic socialist never mentioned Clinton by name during an hour-long speech and a short question-and-answer session, instead contrasting his campaign with Republicans. He repeatedly brought the crowd to its feet with calls to strengthen the middle class by implementing single-payer health care, offering workers 12 weeks of paid sick and family leave and raising the minimum wage to $15 hourly.
"Wages are much too low for millions of American workers. Period," Sanders said. "A minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage and it has got to be raised."
Jim Gurley said Sanders didn't need to name Clinton to make his pitch — the contrast was clear in his message.
"I think it's pretty darn plain. Hillary, unfortunately, doesn't speak as plainly as Bernie," he said.
Gurley drove about an hour from his home near Winona to see a candidate he already supported, and emerged convinced Sanders is the right person for the White House. He said he thinks Sanders has a definite shot at winning, but that if he can't overcome Clinton, his priorities will still seep into the race.
"She'll be influenced by his message, especially as it's catching on," he said.