To an official-count crowd of about 13,000 — with more watching from outside the barrier gates — Sanders was introduced by Austin City Councilman, and Sanders Texas campaign chair, Greg Casar.
Upon taking the stage, Sanders was met with resounding cheers and a chorus of “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” as “Power to the People” by John Lennon blared across the Austin landscape.
“This is a campaign of the working class of America, by the working class of America, and for the working class of America,” Sanders said to the crowd.
After touting his strong showing in Iowa and his wins in New Hampshire and Nevada, Sanders emphasized many of the progressive ideals that have become the foundation of his campaign.
Canceling student debt, eliminating college tuition, raising the minimum wage, and implementing a Medicare-for-All socialized medicine plan were among the topics discussed, as were repealing many of President Trump’s hawkish immigration initiatives and expanding funding for Planned Parenthood.
Additionally, Sanders vowed to lower prescription drug prices and take on “Big Pharma,” while also legalizing marijuana in every state by way of an executive order on his first day in office should he be elected president.
However, marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning such a move would most likely face constitutional barriers and have to, at a minimum, go through the notice and comment rulemaking process.
Sanders also advocated for the Green New Deal as well as banning the sale of “assault rifles” and the implementation of mandatory background checks. Additionally, part of his Green New Deal platform is banning the exportation of crude oil by executive order.
In a surprise visit, Sanders received an endorsement from one of his former Democratic primary opponents: Marianne Williamson.
Before the event, The Texan spoke to a few attendees to get their thoughts on the race and some of the policy priorities discussed.
“Inclusion, equality, if that’s radical, that’s radical. It should be everybody’s country. Everybody should be treated equal,” Rick Prashaw, a Canadian who worked for “the very left party in Canada” and stopped in Texas on his way to Mexico said of Bernie’s progressive ideals.
Though Prashaw cannot vote because he is not an American citizen, “if I could vote, I would (vote for Sanders)… this is the first day I ever felt sad about being a Canadian,” he continued.
Despite nearly being an octogenarian, Sanders does quite well with younger demographics. Three such young people were 14-year-old Gabriel Mayorga, 16-year-old Andrew Gage, and 18-year-old Will Gage. The first two attend Canyon Lake High School and the lattermost works full-time as an excavator.
The group called Sanders “the best candidate because he knows what we want.” According to them, those with their views are outnumbered at best.
Andrew Gage said he’s supporting Sanders because of climate change. “It’s the main thing I’m worried about,” he added. Although the support is theoretical as Gage will not be old enough to vote in the November elections.
Will Gage also pointed to financial issues. “I’m a day laborer and I make $14 an hour — and $15 an hour, that sounds pretty good,” he mentioned.
Mayorga, meanwhile, indicated an anyone-but-Trump position. “His ideals are better than Donald Trump’s, and I would like to see somebody else get elected,” Mayorga stated.
Mayorga decided to come because he “likes to learn more about the candidates and the process.” While he can’t vote, he is excited about being able to next election.
The three all stated they’d support whomever the Democratic nominee is (even if a vote is out of the questions), but that Bernie is their favored candidate.
The elder Gage did, however, criticize one of the candidates: former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “He’s just money…he doesn’t care about people,” he added.
Mayorga thinks if it’ll come down to two, it’ll be either Bernie or South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Sanders has been polling well in Texas of late. He leads in the Real Clear Politics polling average narrowly over former Vice President Joe Biden. This change comes about a month after a Texas Lyceum poll put Sanders two points behind Biden.
Head to head against President Trump, Real Clear Politics has Sanders down by 4.2 points in Texas. In the same polling average, Bloomberg fares slightly better down by four and Biden down by only three points.
One common theme of the afternoon was the belief that Texas is in play. Sanders declared that, “Together we’re going to win here in Texas on Super Tuesday and we’re going to beat Trump in November.”
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Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.