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Surging Sanders in Hanover

Friday, January 15, 2016
Hanover — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., brought his outsider’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination across the Connecticut River Thursday evening to an auditorium packed with supportive Dartmouth College students and more than a few enthusiasts from Vermont.

In a wide-ranging speech that lasted a little over an hour, Sanders highlighted the need to reform “a campaign finance system which is corrupt and which is undermining American democracy.”

In a brief news conference, Sanders said that he would support a Constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened the door to direct corporate donations to candidates. He also said that a commitment to reverse that decision would be a “litmus test” for anyone he appointed to the high court.

Sanders said that his campaign has been funded by small donors.

“We don’t represent the billionaire class,” he said. “We don’t represent corporate America. We don’t want their money. We’re going to do this a different way.”

Sanders got standing ovations when he came on the stage and when he ended his speech and plenty of applause along the way. Speaking deliberately with occasional bouts of hoarseness, he ticked off proposals to reduce economic inequality, rein in Wall Street, end tuition at public universities, lower interest rates on student loan debt, fix “a broken criminal justice system,” decriminalize marijuana and raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, among other things.

Sanders, who at the beginning of May trailed Hillary Clinton by more than 40 points in New Hampshire polls but has led in most polls taken this month, referred obliquely to his newfound status as front-runner: “What was considered to be inevitable may not be quite so inevitable.”

Inevitability wasn’t much in evidence as supporters lined up to get into the event. Kate McGill, of Etna, said she decided to come out to hear Sanders and to work on his campaign because of his commitment to “economic justice.”

Yaira Torres, a Dartmouth freshman from Orange County in California, said she decided to back Sanders because of his support for a “road to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.”

The event was not without paradox. Sanders spoke about standing up to the billionaire class in front of the banners of the event’s co-sponsors, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and Social Sciences, which bears the name of one of the nation’s earliest billionaires, and the Tuck School of Business.

And Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who formally joined the Democratic Party only at the cusp of his current campaign, last night happily accepted the endorsement of Paul Kirk, the former national chairman of that party.

Sanders said that he became a Democrat because that was necessary to wage a successful campaign for the presidency and that he hoped to bring more “working class people into the party.”

Kirk, a lawyer and former U.S. Senator who until 2014 was a director of the Hartford Financial Services Group, an insurance conglomerate with nearly a quarter-trillion dollars in assets, said in a news conference that Sanders had “genuine empathy” for the frustrated and alienated people who were responding to the right-wing populist campaigns of Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz.

Sanders didn’t target Trump, Cruz or any of the others seeking Republican Party’s nod. Instead, he criticized by name the Koch brothers, owners of an energy business who spend liberally to promote conservative causes and candidates, and the family of Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart. Sanders said that many Wal-Mart employees depend on food stamps and Medicaid to survive and urged the Walton heirs, who still have a big ownership interest in the company, to “get off the welfare train (and) start paying your workers a decent wage.”

Sanders focused mainly on describing his proposals for economic and political reform, and seemed somewhat aloof from his emerging political duel with Clinton, whose campaign on Thursday criticized what it called a “Sanders attack ad.”

Sanders said the spot, which describes “two Democratic visions for regulating Wall Street,” was not a negative ad but a representation of a party in which some fought to deregulate big banks and others opposed that.

In response to a question after his speech, Sanders criticized Obama administration policies that have led to the deportation of some Guatemalan and Honduran immigrants. Throughout the rest of the event, Sanders kept his focus on domestic issues and was mum on national security and foreign policy questions.

In a news conference prior to his speech, Sanders reaffirmed his promise to spell out prior to the Iowa caucuses details of how he would raise revenue for his plan to expand Obamacare into a system of “single-payer Medicare for all.” He said that his proposal would include a payroll tax that would act as “a Medicare premium for everybody, who will then get health care.”

Rick Jurgens can be reached at rjurgens@vnews.com or 603-727-3229.

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