More than 300 people packed into the new Council Bluffs campaign office of Vermont Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders July 20. Voters stood, shoulder to shoulder, on unfinished flooring and against unpainted walls waiting to hear Sanders speak.
The noise from the crowd was amplified in the unfurnished room. A wish-list hung in the corner, requesting donations of box cutters, tape, a projector and a desk. To cool the rising temperature of the office, a volunteer delicately balanced a fan on top of a stack of water bottles.
Since the launch of his second attempt to win the Democratic nomination, Sanders has been working to build on the momentum he created in 2016. However, he has not gained enough to propel him past second place behind the former vice president, Joe Biden, and recent polls have showed Sen. Elizabeth Warren either sharing his spot or pushing him into third.
Sanders may not have gained enough popularity to get ahead in the polls, but there is no doubt he has created excitement. Campaign staff said some people showed up to the event three hours early, and as soon as Sanders entered the room, the crowd began a raucous chant: “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie.” Eventually, the wild cheers calmed, allowing Sanders to begin his brief speech. “You know why we are going to win New Hampshire, and win the primary, and defeat the worst president in the modern history of America?” he asked the crowd. “I’ll tell you why — because there are over 300 people here in Council Bluffs this morning.”
The energy remained high throughout Sanders’ speech. “We are sick and tired of paying the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs,” he yelled. “We are sick and tired of seeing our parents and grandparents have to cut their pills in half because they can’t afford the medicine they need.” Both statements were met with shouts of agreement from the audience.
While explaining how he plans to end the greed of pharmaceutical companies if elected, Sanders announced his plan to take a stand against the drug companies. He plans to take a bus full of diabetics from Detroit to Canada where he said they will buy their insulin for one tenth of the price they pay in the United States.
Sanders treaded familiar ground in his speech, railing against corporate greed and the government bailout of Wall Street. Every mention of Wall Street was immediately met with boos from the crowd, to which Sanders responded, “I say that if we can bail Wall Street out, we can cancel student debt.”
Sanders then moved on from Wall Street to discuss climate change.
“It [climate change] is already having a devastating impact on this country and the world,” he said. “Heat waves in Europe, in India, in Australia.” He added Council Bluffs to the list after being reminded by the crowd of the effects of climate change in Iowa, most notably recent flooding.
Then Sanders turned his attention to President Trump. Addressing his comments to four elected officials, all women of color, telling them to “go home,” Sanders said, “As an American citizen, never, ever would have believed in my lifetime I would hear the ugly racist remarks coming from the president.”
Sanders said it is imperative Democrats defeat Trump in 2020. “Trump has the idea that all demagogues have,” he said, “and that is you can win elections or you can gain political power not by bringing people together around common interests, but by dividing people up.”
To end his speech, Sanders thanked attendants, joking, “I know you have friends who think you are a little bit crazy to come out to an office opening when it is 94 degrees outside.” A woman in the crowd responded, yelling, “We don’t care!”
People remained in the hot office long after the speech for their chance to meet Sanders, while volunteers collected sign-up cards to join the campaign — a reminder that while he may not have the momentum of 2016, Sanders is drawing crowds filled with current and soon-to-be volunteers ready to help him get the win in 2020.