The weather forecast Saturday pushed Bernie Sanders’ planned rally at Druid Hill Park to the Royal Farms Arena, but the light rain did not dampen the enthusiasm of the Democratic presidential candidate’s supporters.
A diverse crowd estimated at 6,000 turned out to hear and cheer Sanders’ message of campaign finance reform and political revolution—at one point interrupting him with the chant, “Bernie Sanders has our back, we don’t need a super PAC.”
The Vermont senator continually railed against accepting the status quo in his hour-long address. Specifically, Sanders called attention to the poverty rates in Baltimore, where the overwhelming majority of public school children qualify for free or reduced lunches, describing conditions in many of the city’s struggling neighborhoods as unacceptable “in the richest country in the history of the world.”
He noted that life expectancy, infant mortality rates, and the health and economic outlooks for teenagers in some of Baltimore’s struggling neighborhoods rank among the worst in the world. He also called for a “Medicare for all” universal health system, an increase in social security benefits for seniors—“the people who built this country and raised us”—and free public college and university tuition.
Sanders said he would pay for an increase in social security benefits by lifting the current ceiling on the social security income tax, which is currently limited to annual income below $118,500, and public college education with a tax on Wall Street speculation.
Sanders was introduced by Baltimore activist Kwame Rose, who garnered national attention last April after confronting Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera during protests following the death of Freddie Gray; as well as Baltimore native Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP; actors Kendrick Sampson and Danny Glover; and state delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez.
“I’m in a race against a man who is spending more money than anyone ever has for a seat in Congress,” Gutierrez said afterward, referring to David Trone and her campaign to replace Rep. Chris Van Hollen in Montgomery County. “Bernie Sanders is right about getting money out of politics.”
Maryland’s Tuesday primary coincides with primaries in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Along with those states, it could prove to be the death knell of Sanders’ bid to catch Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton if he does not perform well.
Clinton’s rally in South Baltimore two weeks ago drew about 1,000 supporters, but the former secretary of state has earned the endorsement of Maryland’s elected officials, including Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, and Rep. Elijah Cummings. She has also led Sanders by a significant margin in state polling throughout the election season.
Other than drawing differences with Sanders on their gun control records, Clinton spent most of her speech in Baltimore going after Republican presidential primary leaders Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, both of whom she characterized as promoting discrimination and bigotry
In his speech, however, Sanders focused on making distinctions between his positions and record, and Clinton’s positions and record on issues that included fracking, which he wants to ban; a national $15 minimum wage, which he supports; trade agreements, which he has opposed; and breaking up the big banks, such as Goldman Sachs, which he says continues to hold too much economic and political power. As he has done previously, Sanders also contrasted his vote against the war in Iraq and Clinton’s support for the war in 2002. He promised to spend money rebuilding American cities and not on “perpetual” war in the Middle East.
Sanders also told the crowd that people who tell them that the U.S. is poor are “lying” and that for the past 35-40 years “the wealth has been going to the top 1 percent.”
“We are going to have an economy that works for all,” Sanders said.
His supporters stressed the Sanders’ early civil rights activism as a college student and long advocacy since on behalf of women’s rights, LGBT rights, workers’ rights and environmental causes, such as climate change.
“Who else [but Bernie Sanders] would be shackling themselves to the leg of a black woman fighting for equality 50 years ago,” Rose asked the crowd during his introduction, referencing footage of a young Sanders during a Chicago segregation protest. “Who else would be touring the neighborhood of Freddie Gray?” continued Rose, referencing Sanders’ December visit to Sandtown and West Baltimore and meeting with local black pastors.
Maryland’s primary is April 26, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Early voting ended Thursday.