VISTA — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders promised sweeping changes if elected in November, and said his campaign gives Democrats the best chance to defeat Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, during a campaign rally on May 22 in Vista.
Sanders spoke to a crowd of nearly 7,400 people, who packed Rancho Buena Vista High School’s football stadium to hear the Vermont senator’s plans to reshape the nation, from a $15 national minimum wage and virtually tuition-free state colleges to calls for campaign finance reform and a federal jobs program.
“This campaign is not just about electing a president, it is about transforming a nation,” Sanders said. “All of you need to stand up and demand a government that represents all of us, and not just the top 1 percent.”
Pointing to recent polls that show Sanders defeating Trump in national head-to-head matchups by larger margins than his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, Sanders told the crowd that securing the nomination would virtually guarantee a Democratic victory in November.
“I hope that all Americans and certainly every Democrat takes a hard look at which Democratic candidate is the strongest candidate to make sure Trump does not get elected,” Sanders said. “And I think the objective evidence is very clear that in virtually every national poll and every state poll we defeat Trump by larger numbers than Hillary Clinton.
“And I will suggest to you that it is not just polling, the reason we are the strongest campaign is because of you,” Sanders said. “We understand that the enthusiasm and energy and drive is with us. And when there is energy and when people are prepared to stand up and fight for a better America, voter turnout goes higher, and when voter turnout goes high, progressives and Democrats win. And that is why our campaign is the campaign that will defeat Trump and defeat him badly.”
Sanders, who currently trails Clinton in the overall delegate count, told the crowd that winning big in California — which holds its primary June 7 — is critical to maintaining his narrow path to the nomination. The country’s largest state has 546 delegates up for grabs for Democratic nominees.
Clinton currently has about 94 percent of the 2,383 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, but Sanders has said he will take his delegate fight to the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July. If Sanders hopes to overtake her based on just the remaining primary and caucus delegates, he still must win 66 percent of the remaining delegates.
Sanders urged those at the rally to register for the election and turn out in high numbers.
“If voter turnout is high with your help, we are going to win the lion’s share of those delegates,” Sanders said. “And if we can win big here in California, we are going to have the momentum taking us into the Democratic convention to win the nomination.”
Sanders’ hour-long speech highlighted much of the major points of his campaign platform, including his promise to increase the national minimum wage to $15 an hour, which several states have already done, to make state colleges virtually tuition free (paid for by taxing Wall Street speculation), to remove marijuana from the Drug Enforcement Adminstration’s Schedule 1 classification, and to initiate a massive federal jobs program centered around repairing the country’s aging infrastructure.
He also promised to use his executive powers as president to create a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Sanders also spoke out against the militarization of local police forces and the nation’s incarceration rate, and railed against the current campaign finance system, which he said has been hijacked by special interests and Wall Street, and a “rigged economy” that puts the vast majority of the nation’s wealth into the hands of the wealthiest citizens.
Actress Shailene Woodley of the “Divergent” movie series introduced Sanders to the raucous crowd. Woodley said she supported Sanders because of his authenticity and honesty.
“Everything he has said he would do he has done,” Woodley said. “He is the only candidate I believe that has this track record.”
Hundreds of people lined up to attend the rally hours before Sanders was set to speak, and by 1 p.m., Rancho Buena Vista’s home bleachers were packed with people of all ages.
Among those in the audience was Jonathan Kendall, who was dressed in colonial garb. He called Sanders a “once in a lifetime candidate.”
“He is talking about a political revolution,” Kendall said. “We want our government and our democracy. We don’t need a political dynasty (referring to Clinton), that is not how our system was supposed to be set up.”
Kim Cyr and her daughter Cheyenne also attended the rally. Vista residents, they said they were surprised that Sanders would chose the community — known as a conservative bastion — to host a rally, but were not surprised by the turnout.
“We think it is awesome that he is here, and we are proud to be part of history,” Kim said.