Politics & Government

Bernie Sanders speaks to thousands at rally in Charlotte

Saying a big turnout Tuesday could prove the polls wrong again, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders swept into Charlotte on Monday to fire up supporters and boost his N.C. campaign’s last-minute efforts to get out the vote in a state where he’s believed to be trailing.

The Vermont senator, speaking to about 6,000 people at PNC Music Pavilion, recounted how polls leading up to last week’s Michigan primary gave him no chance of defeating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton there. But he ended up eking out a win.

“In Michigan, suddenly people started coming out of the woodwork and there was a huge voter turnout,” he said. “Tomorrow, here in North Carolina, if there is a large – a very, very, very large – turnout, we’re going to win it. Let’s do it.”

The latest polls in North Carolina still put Clinton way ahead of Sanders here. One released Monday by Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling had her at 56 percent and Sanders at 37 percent. According to PPP, the race is much tighter in three of the other states voting Tuesday: Clinton is slightly ahead in Ohio and Illinois and Sanders has a narrow lead in Missouri.

But at the Monday rally, Sanders pressed his differences with Clinton on trade – an issue that helped him and hurt her in Michigan. Sanders has opposed and Clinton has mostly supported past U.S. trade deals such as NAFTA and CAFTA. Sanders is betting the issue could also be potent in North Carolina.

Such “disastrous trade policies,” some promoted by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, shut down North Carolina’s textile industry and crippled the state’s furniture industry, Sanders said.

He promised “fundamental changes in our trade policy” that favored working people instead of corporate America if he’s elected.

The Charlotte rally was Sanders’ second N.C. event in three days. He spoke in Raleigh on Friday.

The mostly young crowd at the Charlotte pavilion – usually a venue for music concerts – welcomed him with a level of enthusiasm that was notable even for a political rally. They waved signs, chanted his name and roared with approval when he mentioned his signature pledges: For free tuition at public universities, for expanding Medicare to provide health care for everybody, for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour – and against letting Wall Street and the wealthiest 1 percent control the American political system.

“This campaign is gaining ground because we listen to the American people, and not just wealthy campaign contributors,” Sanders said in what was one of several digs Monday at Clinton, who has received donations from some figures on Wall Street.

Sanders also used barbed humor to call again for Clinton to release the text of high-paid speeches she gave to Wall Street firms after leaving her post in the Obama administration. For each, Sanders claimed, she was paid $225,000.

To be paid that much money, Sanders said to the delight of his audience, “it must be a brilliant, mind-blowing speech. It must be a Shakespearean speech. .. And all of America should have the opportunity to hear it.”

Sanders had sharper words for GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, who has been criticized even by fellow Republicans for saying disparaging things about Mexicans, Muslims and women.

“We are telling Donald Trump and others,” Sanders said, “that we will not accept for one second their bigotry and xenophobia.”

Related stories from Charlotte Observer