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Sanders highlights hope that Missouri will be another Michigan

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders tells supporters at Affton High School that he's hoping Missouri gives him a surprise victory in Tuesday's primary.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI
Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders tells supporters at Affton High School that he's hoping Missouri gives him a surprise victory in Tuesday's primary.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is banking on Missouri primary backers to provide the campaign boost that he got last week by a surprise victory in Michigan.

“I think we’re going to win a lot of states on Tuesday,’’ Sanders declared Sunday, touching off deafening cheers from the crowd packing the Affton High School gym.

Sanders made it clear that he’s optimistic Missouri will be among them. His campaign was conducting phone banks over the weekend in St. Louis and Columbia, Mo., featuring actor Justin Bartha, and Sanders will headline an election-eve rally Monday night at the St. Charles Family Arena.

"When working people and young people and older people come out and are determined to end establishment politics and establishment economics, when that voter turnout is high — we win," Sanders said.

His aim is to best Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, once the presumptive nominee who’s been “feeling the Bern” from Sanders’ appeal among certain segments of voters. At last count, Sanders said, he has won nine state primaries or caucuses. He's feeling the most pumped about last week's Michigan victory, which his campaign hopes will be an entree into other Midwestern states.

Clinton, who was in Affton on Saturday, is sending in her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, for a flurry of Missouri campaign events on Monday. The candidate's husband, Bill Clinton, barnstormed the state last week.

Chelsea Clinton’s events appear aimed at wooing the same type of voters that filled the gym for Sanders Sunday: overwhelmingly young and white.

Sanders’ stump speech makes a point of reaching out to all ages and all ethnicities. Still, it’s clear that his appeal is particularly strong among those of college-age, many of whom embrace his promise of tuition-free education at public universities and colleges.(To find audio of the entire Sanders speech, click this link.)

Free college and other issues

"Other countries have free college. We need to have free college," said Affton High School Student Council President Joshua Bohell, among the speakers warming up for the crowd before the candidate appeared.

A few minutes later, the cheers were deafening as Sanders declared that “hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, even though they are qualified. That is wrong. It is wrong for those young people. It is wrong for the future of our economy.”

Sanders also touched on other key issues:

  • His concern about the nation’s growing income inequality. Sanders highlighted the Walton family, owners of the Wal-Mart chain. The family “owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of the American people,’’ he said.
  • His belief that the federal wage of $7.25 an hour ($7.65 an hour in Missouri) is “a starvation wage’’ that needs to boosted to $15 an hour.
  • His passion for revamping the nation’s campaign-finance system, which he said is “corrupt” and increasingly under the control of a handful of billionaires;
  • His opposition to many of the pending and longstanding trade deals, which Sanders said have contributed to a “rigged economy’’ that is producing fewer well-paying jobs for the jobs and instead shifting more wealth to the wealthy.
  • His contention that Republican talk of “family values’’ really means that “no woman in this room or in this country should have the right to control her own body.” Sanders emphasized that he vigorously disagrees.
  • His pledge to provide "health care for all."

The crowd cheered its agreement when Sanders also declared, “We have a broken criminal justice system. We are going to end institutional racism.”
While emphasizing that he believed most law enforcement officers were honest and hard-working, Sanders added, “If a police officer breaks the law, that officer should be held accountable.”

Sanders also blasted “cowardly Republican governors’’ and what he said were their attempts to “suppress the vote’’ by various measures. Although he wasn’t specific, Sanders appeared to be referring, in part, to photo-ID mandates that Democrats say hurt the poor, the elderly and college students — all of whom are less likely to have driver's licenses, the most common form of government-issued ID that some states allow to be used to prove identification at the polls.

Actor Danny DeVito introduced Sanders at Sunday's rally in Affton.
Credit Bill Greenblatt | UPI
Sanders criticized his opponent, Hillary Clinton, on her vote for the Iraq war and being soft on trade.

Sanders’ criticisms of Clinton centered on her campaign-finance operations, which include several Superpacs that can receive donations of any size, her mixed voting record on trade deals and her vote in late 2002 in favor of using military force against Iraq.

Clinton has said she regrets the Iraq vote, but Sanders implied that she shared responsibility for that country’s continued turmoil, even though most U.S. troops have left.

Although Clinton recently came out against proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, Sanders implied that she was doing so for political reasons. His campaign has highlighted the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, that was put in place during Bill Clinton's tenure. Critics blame NAFTA for the defection of American jobs to Mexico.

Sanders' economic message when it comes to trade and income equality was one of the draws for Tom Madden, a union plumber from St. Louis, who showed up to listen to the candidate. "Income inequality is what's wrong with this country,'' said Madden, who asserted that too many Americans are victims of "the race to the bottom'' that some blame on trade deals.

His rally also featured two area Democratic state legislators — Clem Smith of Velda Village Hills and Genise Montecillo of south St. Louis County — who were backing Sanders. Montecillo told the crowd, "We cannot afford to loose another generation of voters, and this is why I endorse Bernie Sanders."

In any case, Sanders saved some his sharpest attacks for Donald Trump. Sanders contended that some of the latest polls also indicate that he would be the strongest Democrat to run against Trump in the fall.

Actor Danny DeVito introduced Sanders at Sunday's rally in Affton.
Credit Bill Greenblatt | UPI
Actor Danny DeVito introduced Sanders at Sunday's rally in Affton.

Like Clinton, Sanders also is bringing in high-profile surrogates to attract more attention to his cause. Actor Danny DeVito introduced Sanders at Sunday’s rally, and compared the senator to “Obi Wan,’’ a reference to the Star Wars character — also an elderly white man — who doled out wisdom to the younger characters.

Later, in a telephone interview, DeVito praised Sanders' "transparency and his honesty.'' DeVito added that he also believed that Sanders, if president, would keep the U.S. out of "senseless wars."

In Clinton’s case, her campaign’s Sunday schedule included get-out-the-vote appearances by Cecile Richards, national head of Planned Parenthood, and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

Booker said in an interview that there was a reason for all the surrogate help, for both candidates. What happens in Missouri on Tuesday, he said, is "profoundly important for a lot of dynamics going on in the larger race."

For Clinton, he explained, "Missouri is an important Midwestern state that she needs to show she can win ... She is trying to demonstrate that Michigan is not a trend. That what happens in Missouri is the norm."

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.