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Red States 'Feel The Bern' as Populist Message Resonates

Senator's populist message is catching on in Republican-heavy areas, with Arizona bringing his biggest crowd yet

Bernie Sanders speaks to a crowd of 11,000 in Phoenix, Arizona on Saturday, July 18, 2015. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

On his latest round of campaign rallies this weekend, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) drew three more huge crowds in support of his populist message. And while this has become a common occurrence these days for the senator, who is running for president in the 2016 election as a Democrat, the most recent turnouts are particularly significant because he is on a red-state swing.

In Arizona and Texas, massive crowds—including his biggest one yet—showed up to see Sanders speak on economic and inequality issues. And he didn't shy away from criticizing the Democratic Party for 'turning its back' on people in conservative states.

In Phoenix on Saturday, Sanders spoke to roughly 11,000 people, which, according to the Washington Post, was his largest turnout so far. He focused on income inequality and noted the importance of populist participation in the election.

"Somebody told me people are giving up on the political process," Sanders said. "Not what I see here tonight."

"If we are serious about change in America, we can't just do it in blue states."
—Bernie Sanders

Texas also turned out for Sanders on Sunday. In Dallas, he spoke to an audience of 8,000, stating, "One of the problems that exists in American politics today, in my view, is that the Democratic Party has conceded half of the states in the country at the national level, and that's wrong. When childhood poverty in Texas is 27 percent, we've gotta take it on. When 34 percent of people living in Texas have no health insurance, we've gotta take it on."

Sanders shared that sentiment again to a crowd of 5,200 at his second Texas stop later that day. The Texas Tribune reports:

Several hours later at a similar event in Houston, he sharpened his advice for Democrats, saying the "simple truth is that you cannot be a national political party which claims to represent working families and low-income people and turn your back on some of the poorest states in America."

"If we are serious about change in America, we can't just do it in blue states," he declared earlier in Dallas, emphasizing the need for a "50-state strategy" that leaves no voter in the dark. 


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Yet Sanders' Texas talk came with a hint of optimism as he raised the prospect of the end of Republican dominance in the state. It was a reliable applause line in Dallas and Houston, cities in the heart of counties critical to Democrats' hopes for a bluer Texas. 

“I am here to tell you that today this is a conservative Republican state, but that doesn’t mean it will be conservative Republican tomorrow," Sanders said after taking the stage in Houston, remarking he did not want to become dizzied by the stadium-style crowd. "And with the energy I see in this room, it may be sooner than tomorrow."

While Sanders may have been dizzied by the size of the crowd, the senator from Vermont has long had a sense that his message has grabbed the attention of voters around the country. In an interview with CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday, he said, "We're going to go to Alabama, we're going to go to Mississippi.... I think the message that we have is resonating. People are going to get involved in the political process, we're going to drive turnout up, and when we do that, we win."

The Huffington Post adds:

[G]oing to Texas furthers his argument that progressive candidates shouldn’t confine themselves to the coalition of voters that elected President Barack Obama. Progressive voters' stances on economic issues should resonate with working voters, the thinking goes, if the party does more to reach out to those in "flyover" states.

"The other thing I want to do is to take these debates into the so-called red areas of the country," Sanders told The Nation's John Nichols. "I think it is insane that the Democrats do not have a 50-state strategy [along the lines championed by Howard Dean]. How is it that, if you are the party of working people, supposedly, you abdicate your responsibility in some of the poorest states of America? Where are you in Mississippi? Where are you in South Carolina? Where are you in Alabama? Where are you in other low-income states? If you don’t get started now, you will never advance. So I intend in this campaign to go to states that many Democratic candidates don’t usually visit."

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