MADISON — U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders kicked off his Midwest battleground tour in Madison Friday, April 12. It's his first stop in Wisconsin as a candidate since beating Hillary Clinton in the last presidential primary.
"Thank you all very much for coming out this afternoon to complete and political revolution and transform this country," said Sen. Sanders.
Sen. Sanders is promising to build a coalition that will defeat President Donald Trump as he kicked off a swing through pivotal states that are part of the Democratic "blue wall" strategy for 2020.
Speaking to a crowd of about 2,400 who braved 40-degree (4 Celsiu) temperatures with a stiff 20 mph (32 kph) wind, Sanders pledged to flip Midwestern states such as Wisconsin that Pres. Trump narrowly won in 2016.
"We're going to win here in Wisconsin, we're going to win in Indiana, we're going win in Ohio, we're going to win in Michigan, we're going to win in Pennsylvania and together we're going to win this election," Sanders said.
Sen. Sanders is trying to sway voters with a message of economic equity, social justice, free public college and health care for all.
"Whether you like it or not, we are going to end the international embarrassment of the United State being the only major country on Earth that does not guarantee health care to all people as a right," Sanders said.
Sanders leads the Democratic voters in Wisconsin, according to the latest Marquette University Law School Poll. He is also on top with fundraising.
"I like his economic stuff," said Joseph Reissmann, attended rally.
"I came down here to watch him and see what he has to say," said Kelly Logan, attended rally.
"I think he's really progressive which is exciting," said Katie Amdahl, attended rally.
The independent senator from Vermont carried Wisconsin by 13 points in the Democratic primary three years ago and has been a frequent visitor since losing the nomination to Hillary Clinton. He touted his appeal to working-class and college-age voters, while fostering his network of supporters before this second run for president.
"He's the real deal," said Sanders backer Lynn Glueck, 50, a teacher from Madison who wore a winter coat with the hood up for the rally. She said to win, Sanders needs to emphasize his "long term integrity."
"It's not like he came up with these ideas the past two years, Glueck said. "He is not somebody who is bought and sold."
University of Wisconsin students Dylan Karls, 20, and Aaron Dwyer, 20, came from the nearby campus to check out the rally. They said they didn't know which Democrat they will vote for yet but liked that Sanders was forcing other candidates to take more liberal positions.
"I think he cares more than a lot of other politicians," Dwyer said. "He's a candidate people can get behind because he cares."
Democrats have made clear that their best chance at defeating Pres. Trump in 2020 is by winning back three states Pres. Trump narrowly captured: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Dubbed the "blue wall" before they unexpectedly tipped to Pres. Trump, they may have supplanted Florida and Ohio as the nation's premier presidential battlegrounds.
"Now is the time to transform this country. Now is the time to win this election," Sanders said.
Following the Wisconsin rally, Sanders was headed to Gary, Indiana, on Saturday. He'll hold a rally at a community college in Warren, Michigan, later that day, and then head to Pennsylvania for an event Sunday near the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon campuses. Then it's off to Ohio on Monday.
Pres. Trump also knows the Midwest is vital to his re-election bid. He's looking to repeat in states he won in 2016 and expand his territory. Pres. Trump was due to campaign Monday in Minnesota, a state that almost went his way in 2016 after not voting for a Republican presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in 1972.
However, Democrats feel like the momentum is on their side in the Midwest. They captured governorships in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota last year.
The Sanders campaign said in a memo prepared in advance of the trip that the pathway to victory runs through the Midwest.
The memo said that Sanders has received donations from more than 8,000 people in Wisconsin, 14,000 in Michigan and more than 18,000 in Pennsylvania. Sanders was leading all Democratic candidates in fundraising as he tries to establish himself as the clear front-runner amid the crowded field.
Sanders' appeal in Wisconsin is clear. He won 71 of the state's 72 counties in 2016, defeating Clinton by 13 points. Sanders also narrowly beat Clinton in Michigan, but lost to her in Pennsylvania.
Early polling in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania has shown Sanders ahead of other Democrats. Just this week, the Marquette University Law School poll showed Sanders leading a field of 12 Democratic candidates in Wisconsin.
But pollster Charles Franklin cautioned about reading too much into the numbers a full year before Wisconsin's April 2020 primary. Candidates with the best name recognition, like Sanders, typically fare better this far out compared with others mounting their first national runs for office, Franklin said.
The Sanders campaign said his message on trade, unions, working families and health care resonates in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest. Earlier this week, Sanders unveiled his latest "Medicare for All" proposal, an idea that has influenced Democratic state lawmakers in Wisconsin who are advocating for similar statewide health insurance coverage.