TACOMA — Bernie Sanders fired up a crowd of more than 17,000 at a Tacoma Dome rally Monday night, declaring President Donald Trump, the corporate elite and the Democratic establishment “should be getting nervous” about his early successes in the presidential race.
Making his first Washington campaign appearance of 2020 ahead of our state’s primary, Sanders tore into former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who recently hired a campaign team in the state.
“Today, we say to Mayor [Mike] Bloomberg, ‘We are a democracy, not an oligarchy. You are not going to buy this election,'” Sanders said, targeting Bloomberg’s spending of hundreds of million of dollars on a national ad blitz.
Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, lashed Bloomberg’s record as mayor, citing “racist policies like stop-and-frisk” — a practice of police stops that targeted minority communities — and for past opposition to raising the minimum wage.
Sanders supporters in the boisterous crowd stamped their feet, chanted and applauded the calls for massive government spending programs, including “Medicare for All,” a Green New Deal, and free tuition at public colleges and universities.
“If Congress can bail out the crooks on Wall Street and give tax breaks to billionaires, Congress can cancel all student debt in this country,” Sanders said.
The crowd also cheered for a reversal of Trump’s immigration policies, and in a nod to the West Coast’s homelessness crisis, Sanders vowed to build 10 million units of affordable housing, saying: “This is America. We will not continue having a half-million people sleeping out on the streets.”
Sanders reserved much of his ire for Trump, calling him the most dangerous president in U.S. history and accusing him of betraying working families with tax cuts and other policies favoring the wealthy.
“Mr. Trump, you are a liar. You are a fraud, and the American people are not going to reelect you,” he said.
Before Sanders took the stage at about 8 p.m., his campaign was praised by speakers including Seattle City Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda, youth climate activist Jamie Margolin and actor Tim Robbins.
Sawant drew big cheers when she introduced herself as “the socialist” on the Seattle council. She repudiated the Democratic Party, saying “we need to elect Bernie and we need a new party of and by working people.”
U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, who is chairing Sanders’ campaign in the state, pushed back against criticism of the costs of his sweeping policy proposals, pointing to the vast wealth of the United States. “We in America don’t suffer from scarcity. We suffer from greed,” she said.
Despite worries from some Democrats, both Sanders and his surrogates argued he would be best positioned to defeat Trump in November by driving massive new-voter turnout. Sanders said he hopes to see record turnout in Washington’s upcoming primary.
The line around the Tacoma Dome circled the venue by early afternoon, with thousands arriving early for the scheduled 7 p.m. event. Some of those supporters expressed enthusiasm for Sanders but would not necessarily commit to supporting another Democratic nominee.
At the front of the line, Remington Schroyer, 19, of Bellingham, said he arrived at 9 a.m. to secure his spot. “I love how Bernie is taking on the Democratic and Republican establishments,” he said.
Schroyer said his support for the independent Vermont senator would not necessarily transfer to all of his Democratic rivals. He’d said he’d be fine with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but not billionaire Bloomberg or former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, for example.
Distrust of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was a theme for Schroyer and other Sanders supporters; some wore T-shirts or sported signs calling for the firing of DNC Chairman Tom Perez, who is facing heat over a delayed and bungled count in the Iowa caucuses.
The rally was a rekindling of the support that powered Sanders’ 2016 Democratic caucus win in Washington. This year, the state Democratic Party has abandoned caucuses and will award delegates based on the results of the March 10 primary. Ballots will be mailed to voters this week.
In a statement Monday, Washington Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich linked Sanders and his avowed socialism to policies by leading Democrats in the state, pointing to drugs and homelessness. He said Sanders’ “guarantees of government-run health care and free college are just empty promises from a career politician who has never held a job outside of elected office.”
Sanders supporters were dismissive of the alarms raised from some in the party establishment who fear his political stances could keep him from winning the general election.
“You know, I think Bernie is moving right where the party used to be, and that was with FDR and the policies of the New Deal. It’s the big money that’s influencing politics that has polarized the parties,” said Kathleen Wray of Bremerton, who sported a tattoo of Sanders on her left arm.
Rose Potters and Amanda Swarr arrived at the Tacoma Dome three hours before the doors opened. They spread out with lunch and dinner, a picnic blanket and a lawn chair.
Swarr, a 46-year-old from Tacoma, said Sanders is the first Democratic presidential candidate she’s supported in her life. She’s always been a loyal Green Party voter, she said, but is excited about Sanders.
“I appreciate that he’s a Democratic Socialist,” Swarr said. “He’s the only candidate who’s consistently supportive of social justice issues across the board.”
Both said they’re most impressed by his health care plan, support for a higher minimum wage and rejection of corporate greed.
“I think he’s going to get the nomination,” said Potters, a 60-year-old visiting from North Carolina. “Trump won’t be able to bully and intimidate him like he did with Hillary. I can’t wait to see that debate.”
While neither supported Sanders in 2016, they said they got to know him better during his 2020 campaign.
“I had preconceived notions about his age,” Potters said. “I felt he was too old … but now we have youthful candidates and I’m not really seeing much from them.”
Sanders has emerged as the Democratic front-runner with his win in the New Hampshire primary, but the race for the party’s presidential nomination is far from settled, and his appearance comes as early voting has already started for Saturday’s Nevada caucuses.
Sanders faces competition in the early delegate hunt from Buttigieg, who placed a close second in New Hampshire, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who placed third. Warren remains in third place in the national delegate count. Former Vice President Joe Biden is hoping to reverse his early slide with better showings in Nevada and in the South Carolina primary.
Buttigieg made a campaign stop in Seattle over the weekend, holding a closed-door fundraiser Saturday with limited media access and no public events. Warren, meanwhile, has scheduled a public rally at the Seattle Center Armory on Saturday evening.