On Monday, at a campaign rally in Portland that drew an estimated 8,000 people, Sen. Bernie Sanders argued that he was the candidate in the presidential race most committed to championing the interests of working-class Mainers. “From Maine to California, the American people understand that establishment politics and establishment economics are not working for the middle class,” he said to the cheering crowd.
In a wide-ranging speech that lasted over an hour, Sanders claimed that income inequality is “the great moral issue of our time” and insisted that corporations and wealthy individuals should pay higher taxes to fund his envisioned expansion of social programs.
He vowed that as president, he would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, make college tuition-free, and legalize marijuana. Sanders also pledged to guarantee workers family leave, vacation time and paid sick time, asserting that Americans work many more hours every year than their counterparts in other industrialized nations like England and France.
He also argued that the foundations of American democracy are being eroded by the gargantuan amounts of money being spent by donors to support political candidates, and promised to appoint to the Supreme Court only jurists who pledge to overturn Citizens United.
Noticeably absent from his remarks was any mention of foreign policy. In the past, Sanders has faced backlash from his progressive allies for his unconditional support of Israel, for backing the United States’ interventions abroad in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya and for rarely opposing any defense spending bill.
The massive turnout — which caused Sanders’ speech to be delayed to allow all attendees to enter the arena — was yet another indication that the independent Senator and self-described Democratic socialist may be a serious threat to Hillary Clinton as she seeks the Democratic nomination.
In Iowa, Sanders is polling 34 percentage points below Clinton, while he lags by just 16 percentage points in New Hampshire. Despite his underdog status, his poll numbers have soared in recent months, and he leads his other three Democratic rivals — Former Gov. Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, Former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, and Former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland — by wide margins.