Enthusiastic crowds in the Midlands and the conservative Upstate rallied behind Bernie Sanders’ populist message Friday.
The Democratic presidential hopeful’s campaign estimated that 2,700 people filled the Medallion Center ballroom in Columbia. The diverse crowd overflowed into another room and the lobby.
Earlier Friday, Greenville got a taste of “Bernie-mania,” when Sanders drew a mostly – but not exclusively – white crowd of 2,800 to the TD Convention Center for the self-described democratic socialist’s first campaign event in the state.
Three women – two of them African Americans – introduced Sanders at his Greenville event, signaling his desire to appeal to two powerful S.C. Democratic groups.
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Sanders said the election of President Barack Obama shows the nation’s progress. But, he added, “the bad news is that racism still remains a much too real part of American life.”
As examples of institutional racism, Sanders cited the nine slayings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and police violence against blacks.
The U.S. senator, an independent from Vermont, spoke for about an hour or more at both events, delivering a fiery speech outlining how he thinks the United States has failed to deliver enough jobs, wages, education and healthcare to the middle and working classes, and to protect them from discrimination, based on their race, sexuality or income.
There is a reason why millions of people are working 50, 60, 70 hours a week trying to cobble together some income. The reason is that wages in America for millions of people are just too damn low.
– Bernie Sanders
Both crowds came from near and far – some driving in from Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia. The audiences delivered the same energy that Sanders has been attracting to rallies nationwide, their loud cheers and boos punctuating nearly every stump speech point that he delivered.
Not all of Sanders’ supporters are liberals.
Ann Tupiak, 41, of Mauldin said she considered herself socially conservative – she voted for George W. Bush twice and would prefer it if Sanders opposed abortion – but she supports the independent’s economic and environmental policies, including his denunciation of the role that money has come to play in driving politics.
“I like that he is not being paid off” by corporate interests, she said.
Supporters frequently spoke of Sanders’ authenticity, adding they are tired of business-as-usual politics.
“There are people that have been left behind,” said Loren Chapman, wearing a hat with his “dream team” on it — Sanders and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a progressive Massachusetts Democrat who some party activists had hoped would run for president.
A 52-year-old mail carrier from Johnson City, Tenn., Chapman said he is supporting Sanders because he wants “young people who are underemployed to be able to make a decent wage.”
Increasing the minimum wage – which Sanders called a “starvation wage” – offering free college and paid sick leave for all worters are among Sanders’ positions that Chapman said he supports.
Sanders tailored some of his message for S.C. voters, noting 27 percent of Palmetto State children live in poverty.
He also took a jab at S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, and the GOP-controlled Legislature for rejecting federal money to expand Medicaid.
(I)t is terribly wrong to allow a rigid, right-wing political ideology to stand in the way of health care for hundreds of thousands. It is wrong to allow hundreds of people to die unnecessarily because they don’t have Medicaid.
– Bernie Sanders
On “family values,” Sanders says he wants to end “the international embarrassment of the United States being the only major country on Earth that does not guarantee family medical leave.”
“Staying home with your baby is a family value,” he said.
Sanders did not attack Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, instead targeting the GOP.
“What the Republicans are talking about when they refer to family values is telling every woman in America that they cannot control their own bodies,” and telling “our gay brothers and sisters (that they) should not have the right to marry or enjoy the other benefits of American citizenship,” Sanders said.
The senator’s speech offered few details on how he would pass his agenda if elected president. Instead, Sanders called for a political revolution, echoing the disenchantment that many of his supporters said they feel over current policies.
Columbia residents Paul Kinosian and Helene Goldson left Sanders’ Friday evening rally in Columbia talking about the candidate’s energy.
“He’s struck the nerve of what people are all (mad) about,” said Kinosian, adding he thinks Sanders can win because he strikes the right chords with voters.
Goldson likes Sanders’ family values. But she is less convinced his candidacy can win the White House. If Sanders becomes the Democratic nominee, the presidential race “will be so divisive.”
Sanders will make stops Saturday in Sumter and Charleston, completing his two-day swing through the state.
Reach Self at (803) 771-8658
Clinton supporter in Columbia
Longtime Clinton adviser James Carville will attend a Richland County Democratic Party breakfast Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Ramada Columbia at Fort Jackson. He also will attend a “Hillary for Richland” event at the Richland County Recreation Commission’s Adult Activity Center at 11 a.m. Later, Carville will head to York for Summerfest at 2 p.m.