U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders stumped for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jared Polis in front of college kids at the University of Colorado Boulder on Wednesday before heading north to Fort Collins to do the same at Colorado State University.
Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist, but the independent senator from Vermont caucuses with the Democrats in Congress, and he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
Republicans trumpeted the news of Sanders’ visit at least as loudly as the Democrats, arguing that Sanders is too liberal for Colorado, and so is Polis.
Sanders told thousands of students at the rally in Boulder that the midterm election is about economic, social and racial justice — as well as fighting climate change “in a bold and dramatic fashion.”
Praising today’s young people as the most politically progressive generation ever — fighting racism, sexism and homophobia — Sanders said: “While your ideas are strong and right, your voices will not be heard unless you turn those ideas into political action.”
Sanders is reportedly mulling another run for president in 2020. His stops in Colorado are part of a nine-state campaign tour around the midterm election. The tour kicked off last week in Indiana with scheduled stops in key presidential primary states, including Iowa, Michigan and South Carolina.
The Colorado rallies come less that two weeks before Election Day and about a week since ballots started arriving in mailboxes across the state.
In addition to Polis, who currently represents Boulder and Larimer counties in Congress, the rallies featured U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Joe Neguse, the former CU regent running for the 2nd Congressional District seat that Polis is vacating.
Bennet was the first speaker to the college crowd, telling them that 89 percent of those who voted in 2016 were older than 30.
“Do you have any doubt why Washington is so screwed up if 89 percent of the people voting are over 30?” he said to applause.
The crowd answered Neguse with cheers when he mentioned student debt, climate change and the cost of health care.
“I can’t wait to sponsor Sen. Sanders’ ‘Medicare for all’ bill in the House,” he said, adding that those gathered at the rally are “the generation of hope.”
Polis sought to nationalize the governor’s race by leading with a mention of President Donald Trump’s remarks about women and minorities, and bringing up his Republican opponent.
“We can either elect a Donald Trump yes-man like Walker Stapleton or someone who will put Colorado first, and I always will,” Polis said to cheers.
He said the race was not about “conservative or liberal but forward or backward” and urged the students to vote against Republicans “to nullify their hateful agenda.”
Sanders, who handily won the Colorado Democratic caucus two years ago, took the stage at CU’s Ferrand Field to familiar chants of “Bernie! Bernie!” and called this election the most important midterm in history.
The ideas he espoused when he ran for president are now considered mainstream Democratic doctrine, Sanders said.
He thanked Colorado for the state’s leadership on marijuana legalization, saying the war on drugs has failed. Sanders also commended Colorado voters for raising the minimum wage to $12 and added, “But we’ve got to get it to $15.”
Sanders said the election would come down to one word — turnout — arguing that the alternative was letting billionaires buy the election.
Polis, whose wealth is estimated at around $400 million, has put more than $20 million of his own money into the governor’s race, saying it leaves him immune to the demands of special interests.
“Colorado can lead the way on progressive government by electing Jared Polis the next governor and Joe Neguse as your next member of Congress,” Sanders told the crowd of about 3,000.
He went on to call Trump a “pathological liar” who will say whatever’s necessary to win elections.
Renewing his call for free college, Sanders said if the country had enough money for Trump’s tax breaks for the wealthy, it could afford higher education for its citizenry.
Sanders called single-payer health care a human right and cheered Colorado for leading the fight for women’s reproductive rights.
“We say get the government off the backs of women,” he told the approving crowd. “Let women make that choice.”
Colorado Democrats are kicking off a statewide get-out-the-vote bus tour, too, with stops at the Boulder and Fort Collins rallies.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a term-limited Democrat considering a run for the presidency, wasn’t scheduled to appear at Wednesday’s rallies — he’s considered more moderate than Sanders or Polis — but plans to join the bus tour at events along Interstate 70 later this week.
Stapleton recently won a Trump endorsement via Twitter. Stapleton has said he doesn’t endorse all of Trump’s “personality” — including the president’s remarks about women, immigrants and minorities — but he does support Republican policies.
During a Colorado Politics’ primary debate in May, Stapleton said he would welcome the chance to campaign with Trump, though the president hasn’t announced any campaign stops in Colorado.
Last week, Vice President Mike Pence attended a private fundraiser for Trump’s PAC in Denver but didn’t appear with Stapleton before campaigning with GOP gubernatorial candidates in neighboring states later the same day.
The Sanders rallies are aimed at firing up the Democratic base but could have the same effect on the Republican voters.
While Polis — an entrepreneur who started three companies worth more than a billion dollars — has maintained he’s a reliable capitalist, agreeing with many of Sanders’ goals without always sharing the same approach, the GOP notes the two lawmakers have the same position on on major health care legislation.
Sanders, for example, is the chief sponsor of a “Medicare for all” proposal at the federal level, while Polis says he intends to pursue a multi-state, single-payer plan as part of his effort to bring universal health care to Colorado.
“Feel the Bern?” Stapleton said of Polis at a Women for Walker gathering a day earlier. “He is the Bern.”
The Republican National Committee welcomed Sanders to Colorado with a flurry of press releases and a series of custom Instagram filters mocking the Democrats’ health care proposals.
Kelly Maher, executive director of the conservative Compass Colorado advocacy group, used the “walks like a duck” analogy to link Polis to the progressive steps taken by Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist.
She questioned the Democrats’ strategy, saying Polis is “walking a tightrope” between his liberal base and attempts to court more moderate Democrats and unaffiliated voters in the general election.
“Just because Jared Polis self-identifies as a capitalist that doesn’t make him one,” Maher said. “He wants to govern as a Democrat socialist, so guess what? That’s what he is.”