Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders stumped for his 2020 bid Sunday at Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh in front of hundreds flashing the Vermont senator’s campaign gear and chanting “Feel the Bern.”
Hundreds of people of all ages had gathered two hours before the event started. By the time Sanders started speaking around 5:45 p.m., the park area was filled with about 4,500 supporters of the self-described democratic socialist. The estimates were provided by Pittsburgh police, which also had a heavy presence.
Dominic Renzo, 16, traveled with his parents from Rochester, Beaver County, to hear the senator. He was eager to hear more about Sanders’ plan for universal health care.
“It’s one of his staples, and I feel like the people of Western PA need to hear it,” Renzo said.
Sanders spent a large portion of his hourlong speech on his plan for universal, single-payer health care.
“Today, we say to the private health insurance companies: Whether you like it or not, the United States will join every other major country on Earth and guarantee health care to all people,” he said to raucous cheers. He also reiterated the idea that health care is a human right — something he said when running for president in 2016.
“And we were told by the establishment, ‘Health care as a human right? That’s not an American idea, too radical,’ ” Sanders said to boos from the crowd.
He said he supports the efforts of University of Pittsburgh faculty members to form a union, which has been ongoing since 2016 under the auspice of the Pittsburgh-based United Steelworkers. In March, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board ruled against the university’s attempts to halt a union election by the Graduate Student Organizing Committee and the United Steelworkers.
For Harrison Manning, the senator’s stance on unions is what has won the 21-year-old’s vote. The public policy major at Carnegie Mellon University is originally from Knox, Ind., a small city in northern Indiana.
“I come from a small Rust Belt town, and that’s really important to me and my family,” Manning said.
Sanders rallied in Wisconsin and Michigan before stumping in Pittsburgh, which capped a five-state, Midwest tour. He made other appearances in Indiana and in Lordstown, Ohio — General Motors’ latest casualty in the company’s automotive factory closures.
Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan swung to President Trump in the 2016 election. That, Sanders said, is the reason he visited them in the past three days.
— Dillon Garrett Carr (@dillonswriting) April 15, 2019
“The reason we are visiting these states is pretty simple: Donald Trump won them two-and-a-half years ago, and we’re not going to let him win them in 2020,” he said to cheers.
Clinton lost to President Trump by 1 percentage point Pennsylvania. Sanders lost by 12 percentage points to Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania’s 2016 primaries. He lost to Clinton by similar margins in Allegheny County.
Sanders trails Joe Biden, who is still weighing a presidential run, by 12 points, according to latest RealClearPolitics polls.
Louise Lippincott, 65, of Pittsburgh contemplated joining the growing crowd within Schenley Plaza in Oakland. She was on a walk and decided to stop.
“I’m left-leaning, but I’m undecided right now,” she said, adding a joke about the amount of Democratic Party candidates who have joined the presidential race. The count is up to 18.
To win Lippincott’s vote, Sanders needs to show her that he is in touch with reality. She also hoped the senator would expound on his stance on the environment and health care.
When asked what concerns her most and intrigues her most about the candidate, she said: “His age. … He has the guts and the stamina. But on the other hand, I think it’s time for the younger generations to step up.”
Sanders did not mention his or any other candidate’s age.
He spent another large portion of his speech on President Trump, whom he called “the most dangerous president in modern history” and a “liar.”
“We’re not going to let Trump divide us up. We’re gonna come together and address the real crises facing this country and creating an economy that works for all of us,” Sanders said.
Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, spoke passionately in support of Sanders before the candidate took the stage. She denounced President Trump for “turning his back” on the Puerto Ricans after hurricanes devastated the island in 2017.
“You can kill people with a gun or you can kill people with neglect,” Cruz said while introducing Sanders. “And 3,000 people died because President Trump didn’t have it in him to get the job done.”
She continued: “There’s only one name to get the job done.”
The crowd responded with a chant: “Bernie.”