There's only one presidential candidate who could inspire Kenda Cowan to make the trip from her home in Colorado Springs to Denver and back for a campaign rally on a Sunday night — but she says it's not really about the candidate.
"It's about Medicare for All, and education," says Cowan. "I have two kids, and I'm a cancer survivor. So them getting off to a good start in their education — and me, if I end up having a relapse in my condition, then I don't want to have to go bankrupt, and lose my house, and spend my kids' college fund to make sure I'm there for them."
Cowan was one of an estimated 11,000-plus people who packed the floor of the Colorado Convention Center on Sunday, February 16, to hear from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who has emerged as the frontrunner for the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential nomination after claiming victory in the New Hampshire primary, as well as a popular-vote win in the chaotic Iowa caucuses earlier this month. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, spoke for about thirty minutes, rousing the crowd with his trademark brand of fiery populism.
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"If we are going to bring about the fundamental change that we need in this country, we have got to address the incredible power of the corporate elite," Sanders said. "What this campaign is about is not just beating Trump — it's taking on the greed and corruption of Wall Street, the insurance industry, the drug companies, the fossil-fuel industry, the military-industrial complex. It's taking on the entire 1 percent, the corporate establishment, the political establishment, and telling them: This country belongs to all of us."
It will take a powerful grassroots movement, Sanders told the crowd, to enact a sweeping political agenda that includes new taxes on corporations and the rich, the cancellation of student debt, federal legalization of marijuana, and a climate-change plan that he called the most ambitious ever proposed. But this uncompromising vision is what helped draw thousands of supporters to the Denver rally, where they cheered transformative ideas like Sanders's Medicare for All proposal, which would abolish private health insurance and replace it with a universal, government-run program.
"I'm a parent of three kids, and we spend a lot of time going to the doctor, and medical care is a big thing for us," said Amy Montoya, a Denver resident who attended the rally with her two oldest children. "I want to make sure that in the future, my kids don't have to worry about paying big medical bills."
Sanders had harsh words for President Donald Trump, whom he called a "pathological liar" and "racist" intent on enriching wealthy Republican donors at the expense of Medicare, Social Security and other programs that benefit working people. But he was also critical of primary rivals such as former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has spent a small chunk of his $61 billion fortune to flood the airwaves with ads and rapidly expand campaign operations in Colorado and other states set to vote on Super Tuesday, March 3.
"We're going to end a corrupt political system in which billionaires buy elections," Sanders said. "Democracy, to me, means one person, one vote — not Bloomberg or anybody else spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to buy an election."
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Instead, he told the crowd, his campaign has eschewed high-dollar fundraisers and super PACs in favor of millions of small-dollar donations — another selling point for many of his supporters.
"He's not trying to be bought by Big Pharma and Wall Street and all those," Montoya said. "I feel like he's actually for the people. Bloomberg thinks he can just buy his way in, and I don't trust him. Bernie seems very trustworthy."
Voting in Colorado's presidential primary is already under way after mail-in ballots were sent out last week. While there's been little publicly released polling of the race in this state, Sanders's victory in the 2016 caucuses — along with the turnout at the February 16 rally and a previous event in Civic Center Park last year — has the candidate and his supporters feeling confident.
"Don't tell anybody," Sanders said as he took the stage, "but I think we're going to win here in Colorado."