A crowd of approximately 10,000 people filled a sports arena to capacity in Wisconsin on Wednesday night in order to hear the person who has called for a "political revolution" in the United States explain why he should be the next president.
"Tonight we have made a little bit of history," said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to those inside the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Madison. "Tonight we have more people at a meeting for a candidate for president of the United States than any other candidate has had in 2015."
Such turnouts are becoming a trend for the candidate who has stepped forth from the left side of the political spectrum to challenge Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic nomination. As MSNBC notes, Sanders has been attracting outsize crowds nearly everywhere he goes recently: "Five thousand came out for his kickoff rally in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont. Another 5,000 turned out in Denver, Colorado. In Minneapolis, a thousand listened from outside after the basketball arena where Sanders was speaking filled to capacity."
Wednesday's enormous turnout also arrives with good news for Sanders out of the key early-voting state of Iowa, where a new Quinnipiac poll released on Thursday morning shows his campaign continuing to close the gap with frontrunner Clinton. According to the survey, Sanders is now is receiving support from 33 percent of likely Democratic caucus participants compared to Clinton's 55 percent. That distance is remarkably smaller now than it was in early May when Clinton enjoyed a 45-percentage point advantage.
"Sen. Sanders has more than doubled his showing and at 33 percent he certainly can't be ignored, especially with seven months until the actual voting," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
Which is at least partly why the size of turnouts like one in Madison and elsewhere do matter for the Sanders campaign. "This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders. It is not about Hillary Clinton or anybody else. It is about you," the candidate told the crowd. "It is about putting together a grassroots movement of millions of people to make sure the government works for all of us and not a handful of wealthy campaign contributors."
In his overall remarks, Sanders spelled out his policy prescriptions, which aim to reverse the 40-year decline of the middle class and narrow the wealth and income gap that is greater today in the United States, he said, than at any time since before the Great Depression.
As the local Capitol Times newspaper reports:
Over the course of an hour-long speech, the crowd roared and crowed in approval of the Vermont senator’s remarks, waving blue and white “Bernie 2016” signs and chanting “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie!”
Sanders’ speech, which focused heavily on income inequality, ran the gamut of a progressive wish list, from two weeks of guaranteed paid vacation time for every worker in America to free tuition for students at public colleges and universities, presenting a strong front against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and overturning Citizens United.
He also made spoke briefly about race (“Our job is to make sure that young African-Americans can walk down the street without being abused – or worse.”) and moving to a single-payer healthcare system (“In America, health care must be a right for all of our people.").
And the energy and enthusiasm around Sanders and his message appears to be spreading.
"We have the rule of half that we teach our organizers: if 20 people say they’re going to show up, it’ll be 10," said Pete D’Alessandro, the state coordinator for Sanders' Iowa operation, to Time magazine this week. "But at Sen. Sanders' events, we’ve been consistently over 100% of our RSVPs. Until it doesn’t happen, we feel confident our turnout is going to be higher."
And, reporting from the rally in Madison, MSNBC added:
But by attracting massive crowds, Sanders can build a movement around him and present the impression of momentum as he campaigns for wins in Iowa, New Hampshire, and beyond.
The giant rallies also offer a fundraising opportunity for Sanders, whose staffers collected names of attendees as they entered the arena. His campaign says he’s attracted 200,000 donors so far, most of them small, and will need a to keep firing up a national donor base to fuel his campaign.
“I’ve been frustrated for the last several years and he’s like a lone wolf out there for people with no voice,” said Todd Osborne of Madison.
Erika Hanson said too many Democrats, including Clinton, too often to do the bidding of corporations. “As far as I’m concerned he’s the only person who cares about the middle class,” she said.