About 300 people turned out in Newton Saturday night to hear Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who is on a two-day weekend campaign swing through the state. Sanders drew cheers with his populist message, including criticizing income inequality.
Elizabeth Gaffney, a high school teacher from Baxter, has already heard Bernie Sanders, once in Ames, and again on the soapbox at the State Fair.
She is new to Democratic politics.
“I used to be a Republican,” Gaffney says. “Bernie’s made me a convert.”
Gaffney has big student loans so she likes Sanders's plan to refinance student debt. And she loves the fact that Sanders is running his campaign on small contributions. Sanders got some of the loudest cheers of the night on that score.
“My campaign is the only non-billionaire campaign that doesn’t have a Super PAC,” Sanders says. “I won’t name names.”
Someone shouted back, “You’re not for sale.”
Sanders ran through his goals to aid the struggling and not, in his words, the powerful and greedy, including a higher minimum wage, family leave, fairer incarceration, and more affordable education and health care.
And then there’s income inequality.
“There’s been a huge distribution of wealth in this country for the last 30 years,” Sanders says. “Trouble is it’s been in the wrong direction.”
Sanders adds that one-tenth of one percent of the population holds most of the nation’s wealth.
Outside the auditorium Tizzy Hyatt of Colfax did a brisk business in Sanders paraphernalia.
“Would you like a button or a bumper sticker or a lovely yard sign?” Hyatt asks. “Or the t-shirts are 20 dollars.”
Samantha Myers wore a Bernie Sanders shirt. She moved to Des Moines from Great Britain 12 years ago, but this is the first time she’s gotten politically involved in America. Sanders’s views on income inequality resonate with her. And she says Sanders has given the same straight answers for his entire political career.
Myers is all-in, even canvassing door to door.
“People in Iowa are so nice,” Myers says. “No one’s been nasty to me yet. The worst I’ve heard is that people are undecided.”
Meghan Davis, a Presbyterian minister in Newton, is one of those undecideds. She was a fan of both Bill and Hillary Clinton back when she was in high school.
“I was excited when Hillary ran 8 years ago and I was excited to vote for her this year,” Davis says. “But I’m impressed with Bernie. I’m very conflicted at this point.”
Davis says she’d love to see the first woman president but she’d also like to see the first socialist president.
Sanders says he’ll be up with some television advertising soon enough.
“We will be outspent but we will have the money and you will see our 30 second ads on TV like everybody else,” Sanders says. “Maybe not quite as many.”
Sanders praised the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, but said it doesn’t go far enough. He favors government-sponsored single-payer health care.
Earlier in the day Sanders addressed immigration reform at the Latino Heritage festival in Des Moines. Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley was scheduled to address the festival on Sunday.