COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (CN) – On the first night of a three-day tour through Iowa, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders recapped progress made on what he and his supporters call a political revolution as he launched his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in a state that propelled his underdog campaign three years earlier.
Greeted by supporters who trudged through unseasonably low temperatures and snow to take part in the first of what promises to be scores of rallies by Democratic presidential hopefuls over the next year, Sanders hammered on his now familiar talking points for over an hour, this time as a frontrunner.
“Iowa, you helped begin the political revolution in 2016 and, with your help on this campaign, we are going to complete what we started here. We’re going to turn our vision and our progressive agenda into reality,” Sanders told the crowd of several hundred gathered in the convention space of Council Bluff’s Mid-America Center. The state’s first-in-the-nation caucus — to be held Feb. 3, 2020 — is a point of pride in Iowa.
Sanders began his speech by coming out strongly against President Donald Trump, calling Trump “the most dangerous president in modern American history” and decrying a culture of “greed, kleptocracy, hatred and lies” that have taken over government.
Though the strongest point of the evening came when Sanders recapped how much he and his supporters have been able to move the Democratic Party leftward by building popular support behind what were once seen as radical progressive policies.
“When I first came here to campaign in 2015, not a whole lot of people knew who I was, nobody took our campaign seriously and we were at 3 percent in the polls. The ideas that we were talking about then were considered by establishment politicians and mainstream media to be ‘radical’ and ‘extreme’ ideas that nobody in America would support,” Sanders recapped in his gravelly Brooklyn accent that itself has become a part of popular culture. “Today, virtually all of those ideas are supported by a majority of the American people. They’re ideas that Democratic candidates for president to school board are now supporting.”
Sanders received the loudest cheers for his pledges to redistribute wealth from corporations and the richest earners, raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour, provide tuition-free college education and Medicare-for-all universal healthcare.
Sam Baird, a college student from Lincoln, Nebraska, said there is no other candidate for him who can take the lead on economic policy, noting that Sanders has forty years of experience as a progressive politician.
“When they actually get into office they need the history behind what they promise,” Baird said.
Isaac Sonora, a masonry worker, was one of a few undecided voters Courthouse News spoke to at the event. While he voted for Sanders in the 2016 primary, he said he is willing to hear out the other candidates to see who can deliver on their promises.
“I’m nervous, but America has gotten strong,” Sonora said, citing immigration as his top concern. He said he hopes immigrants who have been in the U.S. since their youth “will get citizenship papers.”
Sam Baldwin, a legal assistant from Omaha who will be voting in her second presidential election next year, said she is on the fence and open to hearing out other candidates, but is drawn to the consistency Sanders has shown. Baldwin said criminal justice reform is the issue closest to her heart.
“That’s a big goal worth working toward,” she said.
Meanwhile, Dustin Laver from Council Bluffs said he was excited to see Sanders speak in person after seeing many of his speeches on TV. An army veteran who now works as a security officer, Laver pledged a recurring donation to the campaign the day Sanders announced his candidacy a little over two weeks ago.
“There are a lot of things he wants to fix,” Laver said. “Get us off corporate greed. Corporations aren’t the only things with voices.”
In the 2016 Iowa caucus, Sanders suffered a narrow defeat to eventual nominee Hillary Clinton, losing by only 0.25 percent of the vote and capturing 21 delegates to Clinton’s 23. However, the virtual tie was a huge boost to his campaign and presaged the following months as he dogged what was initially seen as the former secretary of state and first lady’s juggernaut bid.
Months later, in the caucus of neighboring Nebraska, Sanders triumphed with 57 percent of the vote in what was then a two-person field.
With over a dozen candidates already vying for the right to challenge Trump in the 2020 election, it will be more difficult to garner support, especially amid a growing field of progressives like Elizabeth Warren, rather than play foil to Hillary Clinton.
For voters like Laver, there’s little doubt which candidate Iowans will prefer on caucus night.
“I don’t think it’s going to be anybody but Bernie this time around,” he said.