SANTA FE – Inside the gym at Santa Fe Community College on Thursday afternoon, more than 3,400 people were truly “feeling the Bern.”
Wearing a powder-blue dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and no tie or coat, 74-year-old Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders delivered his message for sweeping economic and social reform ahead of New Mexico’s June 7 primary.
“The only way real change takes place is when millions of people stand up, fight back and demand action,” the senator from Vermont said in his thick Brooklyn accent. “And that is what I am seeing from coast to coast and what this campaign is about.”
Sanders, who has won 11 of 18 Democratic primaries since March 22, told the crowd in the gym that he had momentum in his favor in his contest with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“With your help, with a large turnout in New Mexico, we’ll win this state,” he said.
And he reaffirmed that he would not bow out of the race, even as Clinton seems to have all but wrapped up the nomination. “We are going to fight for every last vote between now and June 14, and we are going to take our fight to the Democratic convention,” he said.
The SFCC gym is the same venue President Barack Obama visited during the 2008 campaign in which he defeated Clinton and went on to win the general election over Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Reminiscent of Obama’s visit, traffic was snarled on the roads leading to the college, and the gym was too small to hold everyone who turned out to see the candidate. The fire marshal turned away about 600.
Elias McEntire, 20, drove up from Albuquerque for Sanders’ “Future to Believe in” rally, because he couldn’t make it to the later event in Albuquerque. “His consistency on the issues, his sense of authenticity – you don’t usually see that from people in Washington,” McEntire said.
He said he was leaning against voting for Clinton if she wins the nomination. “I don’t think I could at this point,” he said.
Arla Henderson of Santa Fe walked into the building wearing a cardboard sign around her neck that read “Prez Bernie” in large letters. She also wrote such words as “Integrity,” “Progress,” “Experience,” and “Smart.”
“I’m feeling the Bern,” she said. Henderson said she’s supporting Sanders because change is needed. “He’s our chance. We need to turn around this machine that’s going full speed ahead.”
Sanders mentioned Clinton sporadically throughout his speech. He said too many people had already settled on her as the Democratic nominee even before the race began. The problem with that, he said, was that the party may not end up with the strongest candidate to beat Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican Party nominee.
He cited recent polls (from The New York Times and Fox News) showing that he has a better chance of beating Trump than Clinton does, and added that he polls better in key battleground states than she does.
“Any objective observer will tell you the energy and excitement is in our campaign, not Secretary Clinton’s,” Sanders said.
He repeated many of the messages he has been spreading throughout his underdog campaign and said he’s telling people what they want to hear – the truth, even when it hurts. For the Santa Fe audience, that included references to New Mexico’s poor ratings in various economic and other categories.
He noted that at 30 percent, New Mexico has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the country. “That should not happen in New Mexico. It must not happen in America. We’re going to change our national priorities,” he said.
He said the nation’s education system needs to be improved, reminding the crowd that New Mexico has the worst high school graduation rate in the country.
Sanders spoke to the Native Americans in the crowd, saying they had been lied to and cheated, and he promised that he would change the relationship between indigenous people and the federal government if he’s elected president.
Speaking to the Latinos, he said there are about 11 million undocumented immigrants in America, and he criticized Trump for suggesting they should all be deported. “That type of bigotry and hate talk has got to end,” he said.
Sanders repeated his criticism of what he calls a corrupt campaign finance system, driven by money and a rigged economy that favors the wealthy. “I think it’s time to transfer some of that wealth back to the people who need it,” he said.
Sanders said that he supports a $15-an-hour minimum wage nationally, and that women should be paid wages equal to those of men. “Anyone working 40 hours per week should not be living in poverty,” he said.
He said another truth is that the United States has more people incarcerated than any other country in the world. “I want this county to be the best-educated country in the world, not have the most in jail. We need to invest in jobs and education, not jails and incarceration,” he said, adding that privatized jails are a bad idea.
On health care issues, Sanders said that there needs to be a revolution in mental health care in America, that pharmaceutical companies need to be reined in to prevent them from charging outrageous amounts for prescription drugs, and that there should be health care and Medicare for all.
Sanders said he was glad to see so many young people in the crowd.
“The reason that’s important is our movement and our agenda is in fact the future of America,” he said.
Over the past few weeks, there have been growing concerns among Democrats that Sanders is creating a division within the party by not conceding defeat to Clinton.
In Santa Fe, few party leaders were seen – Santa Fe County Commission candidate Ed Moreno was seen outside the gym, and Santa Fe District Attorney Jennifer Padgett was waving her own campaign sign near the traffic entrance.
Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, a former Democratic state party chairman, is supporting Clinton and didn’t show for Sanders. “I agree with much of what Sen. Sanders has to say,” he said in a statement to the Journal. “I just believe that Hillary Clinton is the right choice to be our next president.” Gonzales added that after the June 7 primary, “we all need to come together to defeat Donald Trump, not just as Democrats but as New Mexicans and Americans.”
Gonzales plans to attend an event Tuesday in Española at which former President Bill Clinton will campaign for his wife. Bill Clinton will also campaign in Albuquerque next week. And Trump is scheduled to speak at the Albuquerque Convention Center at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
After the rally in Santa Fe, Sanders traveled to Albuquerque for a rally at which more than 7,000 people heard him speak and hundreds more were turned away when the doors closed. A third New Mexico rally is scheduled for today at Vado Elementary School, south of Las Cruces.
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