The 2016 race for president has finally come to Centre County.
Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, hosted a rally Tuesday at Penn State’s Rec Hall. Seen by many as the true grass-roots candidate in the race, Sanders did not disappoint his fans.
With the Pennsylvania primary election slated for April 26, Sanders has spent the past several weeks canvassing the state and speaking with supporters. Stops in the major voting centers of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia at the end of March and earlier this month led to visits in both Erie and State College on Tuesday.
More than 6,600 people, most of whom were student-aged, packed Rec Hall on campus in support of their candidate of choice, filling the hall with chants of “Bernie, Bernie” and “We are!” Supporters could be seen everywhere holding signs emblazoned with Sanders’ slogan “A Future to Believe In” or “Students for Sanders.”
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“It’s a true honor to welcome Sen. Bernie Sanders to Penn State,” said professor Sophia McClennen, who welcomed Sanders to the stage. “As a professor who works on issues of social justice, human rights and economic inequality, I can simply tell you Bernie had me at ‘hello.’ ”
No candidate embodies those value better than Sanders, she said, who works tirelessly to remind the public that supporting those in need is a virtue, challenging inequality is a moral duty and standing up for the rights of others is what defines democracy.
Sanders took the stage to thunderous cheers and applause, accompanied by his wife, Jane Sanders. After thanking the crowd, Sanders launched into his opening remarks — a surprising jab at his opponent Hillary Clinton and early remarks about victory over Donald Trump.
Now, I don’t want you to tell anyone this, but Secretary Clinton is getting a little bit nervous.
Sen. Bernie Sanders
“Now, I don’t want you to tell anyone this,” Sanders said, “but Secretary Clinton is getting a little bit nervous.”
Clinton is getting nervous, he said, because he won seven out of the eight recent contests across the nation. Sanders claimed 16 of the 34 primaries and caucuses, with voters in New York casting their ballots that very evening.
“She’s getting nervous because Democratic voters know that at virtually every national match-up, general election poll, we beat Donald Trump by wider numbers than she does,” he said. “And the American people are catching on that if we’re going to prevent Trump or some other Republican from occupying the White House ... we have got to campaign to make sure that does not happen.”
Sanders also mentioned New York’s ballot-casting, saying while a winner wouldn’t be known till later in the evening, he was going to do better than people thought he would.
One of the themes of his campaign is reinvigorating American democracy, he said, which shows one of the lowest turnout rates of any major country. Saying he wanted to see more people involved in the political process regardless of views, Sanders called for changes to the New York voting system, which hosts a closed primary.
“Today in New York state,” he said, “about 27 percent of the eligible voters are unable to participate in primaries because they have chosen to list as independent. That’s wrong.”
The Pennsylvania primary election on April 26 is also a closed election. According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, of the almost 314,000 registered voters, only about 291,000 are registered as Democrat or Republican, leaving behind about 23,000 voters.
Sanders called for campaign finance reform, saying democracy should be one person, one vote, not billionaires and super PACs buying elections. Anyone should have the opportunity to run for office without having to beg wealthy people for campaign contributions.
Sanders again called out Clinton for her special interest funding, including $15 million from Wall Street. Sanders also referenced speeches Clinton has given to Wall Street firms for $225,000.
“If you’re going to get paid $225,000 for a speech, it must be a pretty good speech,” he said.
He called for breaking up the major banks, addressing income inequality, raising the minimum wage and law enforcement reforms.
But the call to action that likely affected the largest number of the crowd was Sanders’ call to young people to be involved with their government.
“It turns out young people understand they are the future of our country and they want to help determine the future of this country,” Sanders said to echoing cheers.
It turns out young people understand they are the future of our country and they want to help determine the future of this country.
Sen. Bernie Sanders
After seeking higher educations, students are now finding themselves tens of thousands of dollars in debt, he said. Why, he wondered, are we punishing millions of young people for doing exactly what we asked them to do?
We should be rewarding people for getting an education, he said, not punishing them.
In order for the country to succeed, he said, we all need the best education possible. We should be educating ourselves until the day we die.
“I believe, when we talk about public education today, it isn’t good enough to talk about free education, meaning first grade through 12th grade,” he said. “The world has changed, the economy has changed. People need more education than they did 40 years ago.
“That is why, when we think about public education today, we’ve got to be thinking about making public colleges and universities tuition free,” he said.
Sanders closed by saying there will be an important primary in Pennsylvania in a week. When voter turnout is high among his supporters, they win, he said, and when voter turnout is low, they lose.
“So next Tuesday,” he said, “let us have the highest voter turnout in Pennsylvania history.”
Sanders faces Clinton in the state primary on April 26. According to recent polling, if Sanders wants to take the state, he has a gap to cross.
Clinton leads Sanders by an average of 13 points, according to RealClearPolitics.com, which weighs several polls, including Fox News and Franklin and Marshall. The statistics website FiveThirtyEight.com, which uses statistical analysis to predict election results, shows a 92 percent chance of Clinton winning the state primary.