Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator and 2016 presidential candidate, told a crowd late Friday morning in Dunn Meadow that if half the voting-age population turned out by the end of Election Day, the same crowd was looking at their next member of Congress.
That person, if Sanders predictions play out, is Liz Watson. The Bloomington lawyer and former labor policy director for a U.S. House Democratic committee is running to unseat incumbent Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-9th District.
About 3,000 people turned out to the early vote rally in Dunn Meadow, according to an estimate by IU spokesman Chuck Carney and the University’s event management staff. This was the first of a number of stops Sanders is making on a nine state tour. The speakers included Watson campaign student organizers, Indiana AFL-CIO President Brett Voorhies and Nina Turner, president of Our Revolution — the organization that spun off from Sanders’s 2016 run.
“What my Republican colleagues want is for people not to vote,” Sanders said, highlighting low voter turnout in recent elections.
All speakers on the stage Friday morning — Watson and Sanders included — talked about health care, labor rights and student debt. If Watson’s elected to Congress, Sanders said, they will work toward legislation eliminating tuition for public colleges and universities.
The last time Sanders spoke on campus, days before winning the 2016 Indiana Democratic primary, the IU Auditorium was stretched to capacity and the then-candidate spoke to an overflow crowd by Showalter Fountain.
Junior Forrest Gatrell, a volunteer for Watson’s campaign, said Sanders’s name recognition was beneficial to the campaign.
“If everyone said we’re having a rally with any other senator here, I don’t think we would have gotten as big of a crowd,” Gatrell said.
Polling and analysis website FiveThirtyEight has the 9th District race marked as “Likely R,” and indicates she has about a one-in-four chance of winning the election. Some of Watson's volunteers said they thought the Vermont senator's name recognition helped garner support for the House candidate.
In recent months, news reports have indicated Sanders is still considering a run for president in 2020. Despite this uncertainty, vendors lined up around the rally area selling “Bernie 2020” shirts, hats and buttons.
Former vice president Joe Biden, who spoke in Hammond, Indiana, in support of Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly’s reelection a week ago, has also been speculated to be considering a run, though he said last week he wasn’t planning on it so far. Outside the Hammond rally, vendors also sold 2020 campaign gear for a potential Biden candidacy.
After the rally in Dunn Meadow, Sanders led a mass of students and area residents marching to the early voting location.
Freshman Ameena Sohail marched with the crowd to the polls, but she’s going to wait until Election Day to vote.
“There’s something special about, for me, voting on Election Day,” Sohail said.
She has a countdown until Nov. 6 at home in her calendar. But she wanted to join the crowd Friday because she values being part of the political spirit.
Bloomington High School North seniors Anne Sattler and Abby Presson-Wallace waited in line at the early voting location.
Presson-Wallace turns 18 two days after the election, but she said she wanted to be proactive in educating herself and participating in politics.
“I still want to become informed as to who my future congressmen and women, and who my senators are going to be,” Presson-Wallace said.
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