Bernie Sanders hits the campaign trail with days left before US midterms

Vermont senator holding nine rallies across five battleground states, hoping to deliver winning argument to young and working-class voters

San Marcos’s Sewell Park on Texas State University’s campus, was packed with people on Saturday. Harry Styles’s As It Was’ and Dua Lipa’s Levitating provided the soundtrack to a mostly young crowd, who gathered around the stage and eagerly awaited its headliner: Senator Bernie Sanders.

With just days left before polls close and Republicans’ midterm fortunes seemingly on the rise, Sanders is hitting the campaign trail, holding nine rallies across five battleground states in the week and a half leading up to election day.

Sanders and his progressive allies hope to deliver a closing argument to young and working-class voters that Democrats are the better stewards of the US economy, in the hopes of avoiding a Republican landslide on 8 November.

Sanders’ rallies come as Democratic candidates appear to be on the defensive in key races that could determine control of the House and the Senate. Republicans have regained their lead on the generic congressional ballot, according to FiveThirtyEight, and voters’ mounting concerns over the state of the economy appear to be hurting Democrats’ prospects in the crucial final stretch of campaigning.

In an interview with the Guardian, Sanders warned that Democrats have not done enough to mobilize many of the voters who were so instrumental in the party’s victories in 2020.

“Obviously everybody should be turning out for what is the most consequential midterm election in the modern history of this country,” Sanders said before his rally in Austin, Texas. “But in the real world, I worry very much that Democrats have not done a good enough job of reaching out to young people and working-class people and motivating them to come out and vote in this election.”

Supporters cheer as Sanders speaks at a rally for Michelle Vallejo in McAllen, Texas, on 30 October.
Supporters cheer as Sanders speaks at a rally for Michelle Vallejo in McAllen, Texas, at the weekend. Photograph: Joel Martinez/AP

Texas State University student and first-time voter Gabrielle Diedrick, 18, can easily be spotted in the crowd in San Marcos by her black 10-gallon hat, cowboy boots and blue Bernie T-shirt. For Diedrick, raising the minimum wage is her top priority as a constituent and Sanders’ position resonates with her.

Diedrick said: “It’s hard to pay off tuition here at San Marcos. Every job here is like $10 an hour and tuition is about $10,000 every like five months or semester.”

Sanders has repeatedly hammered his economy-based message in the closing days of the 2022 election season, expressing concern that Democrats have focused too heavily on abortion rights in their campaign messaging. In a Guardian op-ed written earlier this month, Sanders urged progressive candidates to outline a pro-worker vision for the country, saying it would be “political malpractice for Democrats to ignore the state of the economy and allow Republican lies and distortions to go unanswered”.

More Democrats have acknowledged the wisdom of Sanders’ argument in recent weeks, as surveys show a large share of the electorate identifies the economy as their top priority. An ABC News/Ipsos poll taken last week found that 49% of Americans named the economy or inflation as the most important issue determining their vote for Congress, while just 14% said the same of abortion.

That trend could sink many Democratic congressional candidates, as voters consistently say Republicans are better equipped to manage the US economy. Sanders considers that widely held belief to be a misapprehension, insisting Republicans are not prepared to address the near record-high inflation currently affecting millions of American families, and he said Democrats must press their opponents on economic policy.

“We should take the fight to the Republicans,” Sanders told the Guardian. “What are they doing about inflation? What are their ideas? Their ideas, among other things, is to give massive tax breaks for the rich and then cut social security, Medicare and Medicaid.”

In an attempt to turn the inflation conversation on its head, Sanders has framed the problem as a result of corporate greed, and there is some evidence to support his theory. One analysis released in April by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning thinktank, concluded that about 54% of inflation could be attributed to increased corporate profits.

“People are hurting. You got 60% of our people living paycheck to paycheck. And for many workers, they are falling further behind as a result of inflation,” Sanders said. “Corporate profits are at an all-time high. The rich are getting much richer, and Democrats have got to make that message.”

Sanders stands with Representative Karen Bass, the Los Angeles Democratic mayoral candidate, in Playa Vista, California, on 27 October.
Sanders stands with Representative Karen Bass, the Los Angeles Democratic mayoral candidate, in Playa Vista, California, on 27 October. Photograph: Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images

Joe Biden appears to have taken the hint, lambasting corporate greed in the closing days of the campaign season. On Monday, the president delivered remarks criticizing oil companies for posting record profits as gas prices have climbed. “It’s time for these companies to stop war profiteering, meet their responsibilities to this country, and give the American people a break and still do very well,” Biden said in a speech at the White House.

Sanders credited Biden with directly addressing the concerns of working Americans, but he lamented that Democratic leaders have not done enough to change voters’ minds about the party’s economic agenda, as they have instead focused more of their attention on abortion rights.

“We have not had the same unity and the same energy around the economic crisis facing working families and what Republicans would do,” Sanders said. “It’s not a question of what the president alone is doing. It’s a question of what the party is doing, where it’s putting its money, its resources, its energy.”

Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of the progressive group Our Revolution, echoed Sanders’ concerns that Democrats have fallen short when it comes to presenting a unified vision around improving Americans’ standard of living. But he acknowledged the inherent challenges of that task, when many of Democrats’ proposals aimed at helping families struggling under the weight of rising prices failed to pass Congress.

Democrats had originally hoped to establish a federal paid family leave program and extend monthly child tax credit payments through their Build Back Better Act, which stalled in the Senate late last year. Democrats instead passed the Inflation Reduction Act this summer, but many of progressives’ economic proposals were stripped out of that bill to ensure the support of centrists like Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

“I agree Democrats have not delivered enough,” Geevarghese said. “I don’t want to belittle [Biden’s] accomplishments, but what he has delivered is much less than what was originally promised, so that’s the fundamental problem.”

That being said, Geevarghese suggested Biden and fellow Democrats could use the hurdles they have encountered to their advantage. After all, if more progressives are elected to Congress, Democrats could revive portions of Build Back Better that were left on the cutting room floor.

“Biden should level with the American people,” Geevarghese said. “He tried to pass transformative legislation that would improve the standard of living of working-class voters, and he was stymied by people in his own party like [Sinema and Manchin], and you know what? That’s why he needs Democrats who will vote with the Democratic caucus.”

Sanders could serve as a pivotal messenger on that front in the final days of the campaign. In his two presidential runs, Sanders demonstrated how a platform of economic populism could invigorate young and working-class voters.

“We know that he is the most popular youth vote candidate. He’s one of our oldest, but he’s one of the most popular hands down,” said Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, president of the youth voting group NextGen America, which is co-hosting Sanders’ rallies. “No one can mobilize young people and working-class people like Bernie Sanders can.”

Sanders visits the University of Oregon campus in Eugene on 27 October.
Sanders visits the University of Oregon campus in Eugene on 27 October. Photograph: Chris Pietsch/AP

When Sanders traveled to the border town of McAllen to rally for congressional candidate Michelle Vallejo’s campaign, Vallejo described “a packed house”.

Vallejo told the Guardian: “To have Senator Bernie Sanders come join us was really exciting. It meant a lot to me. And it meant a lot to the people of [district] 15, because we want to be heard, and we want to be seen for who we are and be respected for the solutions, opportunities and resources that we know that we need in order to live the best quality life possible.”

Although House Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), has chosen not to invest heavily in Vallejo’s race in the face of a potential Republican wave election, she expressed optimism about her chances on 8 November.

“While we did not see any large TV buys on our behalf of the DCCC, we are focusing on connecting with our voters and running this campaign the way that we’ve run it since day one: which is just centered on our community members and on the efforts that really are rooted from our home and on the ground,” Vallejo said.

Early voting data has raised alarm among some Democrats that younger Americans will not cast ballots at the record-breaking levels seen in 2020, which could prove disastrous for the party’s hopes of maintaining control of Congress. But Ramirez expressed confidence that young voters will once again turn out in large numbers because they understand exactly what is at stake on November 8.

“What we’re going to be telling young people is that, in 2020, we beat back fascism. We beat it back for an election cycle. We didn’t kill it or destroy it,” Ramirez said. “We have to beat it out of the political body for our democracy to be truly healthy, and we’re not there yet at all.”


Joan E Greve, and Erum Salam in Austin

The GuardianTramp

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