Progressive poster boy and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday urged people to vote and drag their friends out to the polls during a rally promoting the Democratic party’s ticket at the University of Colorado campus in Boulder.
Calling the candidates “progressive champions,” Sanders said Colorado could be a model for progressive government by electing Democrat Jared Polis as Colorado’s next governor and CD2 candidate Joe Neguse to replace Polis’ seat in Congress.
“While I’m here in Colorado, I want to take the opportunity to thank you for the great work that the people of this state have done in so many areas,” Sanders said.
He praised the state raising the minimum wage and the marijuana legalization law, which he said addressed the criminal justice system and the war on drugs.
“What this election will come down to is one word and that is: turnout,” Sanders said. “Today in America, as all of you know, we have a corrupt campaign system, which allows billionaires to buy elections.”
Sanders is known for regularly railing on the “billionaire class.” So, this was a bit of awkward remark in front of Polis — though to be fair, Polis is a millionaire, not a billionaire.
“I say it today: That it is grotesquely immoral that in America today, we have three people, three wealthiest people who own more wealth than the bottom half of the American people,” Sanders said.
Maybe someone didn’t tell Sanders that Polis, one of the richest members of Congress, has pumped more than $20 million of his own money into his own campaign. Polis has been taken heat from members of his own party about the election “being for sale ” and criticized for his spending by his Republican foe, Walker Stapleton.
Sanders said voter turnout will be key during this election. He could be hinting at the so-called blue wave, though Colorado’s turnout, if primary turnout is any indication, could end up being among the best in the country.
Sanders was critical of President Donald Trump, calling him a “pathological liar” and blasting him for his promises about providing health care and his questioning of climate change.
“Our message to Trump is too many people have fought and died to defend democracy,” Sanders said. “We are not going to move toward an authoritative government.”
The setting Wednesday couldn’t have been any better for Polis, who at this point sits comfortably as the favorite in the governor race.
Polis was on his home turf in Boulder, on a crisp autumn day.
“What a beautiful day. The sun came out for Bernie,” U.S. Sen Michael Bennet said to kick-off Wednesday’s rally.
Also on-hand: A vaguely bluegrass-y band playing before people spoke, people wearing “Bernie For President” shirts, and so much flannel. It was all so picturesque and so Boulder that it could have served as a Polis victory party rather than a rally.
“The stakes could not be higher this election,” Polis said. “It’s about the issues, yes, it’s about a president who is trying to rip health care from Colorado families. But it’s also about so much more.”
Like Sanders, Polis went after Trump. Polis called the president out and suggested he’s said it’s “OK to target women and people of color and immigrant communities and LGBTQ Americans.”
It also led to him mentioning Stapleton, who Polis called a “Donald Trump yes man.” Polis mentioned some of his plans: improving healthcare access, increasing renewable energy and taking on gun manufacturing lobby.
“I’m running for governor because we need to move forward as a state, not backward,” Polis said. “It’s not even about liberal versus conservative, it really is about forward versus backward.”
Sanders estimated about 3,000 people came to the rally, which included a good number of students. Polis’ campaign estimated similar numbers.
“Here is my commitment to you: I will always put people first,” Polis said. “I will fight to ensure that everyone in our state has the opportunity to live a great Colorado life.”
But not everyone there was supportive.
There were several people in attendance urging support for Proposition 112, the statewide ballot measure seeking to increase setback distances for oil and gas wells. Perhaps aware that Polis has publicly said he opposes the measure, people were chanting “endorse 112,” interrupted Bennet while he spoke and held up signs near the stage.
“You know, bold leadership means not being afraid to stand up to the special interests, whether it’s the pharmaceutical industry or whether its oil and gas,” Polis said.
In the distance, beyond the field where the rally took place, a large sign raised said: “Endorse 112.”
Sanders urged young people to vote and improve on the previous election’s low turnout.
Sanders mentioned turnout during the 2014 midterms, when the country saw the lowest voter turnout in a midterm election since World War II.
But young voter, who tend to cast fewer votes during midterm elections, have an opportunity this year to improve turnout. Sanders called today’s generation “the most progressive generation in the history of America,” fighting against sexism, racism, homophobia and religious bigotry.
“While your ideals are strong and right, your views will not matter, will not be heard, unless you translate those ideas into political action,” Sanders said.
Maya Shrestha, 20, is a sophomore at CU who said she skipped class to attend Wednesday’ rally. She’s registered to vote in Texas and plans to vote there to support Democrat Beto O’Rourke for U.S. Senate. She called the 2016 election night “an intense moment.”
“I thought they were amazing,” Shrestha said about Sanders and Polis. “I think Bernie Sanders has a really great way of connecting with the audience and what he was saying about young people going out to vote, especially in this midterm election, is so crucial, at a time like this.”
Shrestha was joined by Cara Allen, 19, a sophomore and in-state student who plans to vote in Colorado. Both felt pretty energized after the rally. She said Boulder is a good fit for her because she feels like most people there “match” her views.
“Everything with Trump is just so kind of messed up,” Allen said. “I feel like every American is being attacked personally, just by everything Trump says. And I feel like Bernie has a way of actually helping the American people.”