CONCORD, New Hampshire – Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday returned to the state that launched him into political orbit.
Making his first appearance in New Hampshire since announcing his second bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, the independent senator from neighboring Vermont pushed his populist agenda of progressive proposals to a crowd of 850 packed into a local conference center on a snowy late-winter day in northern New England.
Sanders’ crushing victory over Hillary Clinton in the first-in-the-nation primary state’s 2016 contest skyrocketed the one-time longshot into a marathon battle with the eventual Democratic Party nominee, which didn’t end until Sanders endorsed Clinton after the conclusion of the primary and caucus calendar.
“I want to offer a very special thanks to the people of New Hampshire. In 2016, this is where the political revolution took off,” he said to loud applause.
Sanders repeatedly targeted President Trump in his nearly hour-long speech, saying he “consistently lies.”
And, Sanders charged that “under President Trump, the very concept of democracy is under attack by a president who seems intent on emulating the authoritarian leaders in Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and elsewhere that he seems to have so much affection for.”
The candidate pushed his progressive proposals, such as criminal justice reform, the “Medicare-for-all” single-payer health care plan and universal affordable childcare, and once again vowed “to make public colleges and universities tuition free.”
He also said “that climate change is not a hoax but is an existential threat to the future of our country and the entire planet... We will transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy.”
However, Sanders made no mention of the Green New Deal, the sweeping proposal beloved by progressives but ridiculed by many Republicans that aims to transform the country’s economy to fight climate change -- while enacting a host of new health-care and welfare programs.
As he was making his longstanding push for a $15-per-hour federal minimum wage, Sanders said, “Today, we say to Walmart, the fast food industry,” before being interrupted by a supporter who yelled, “f--- you.”
The outburst brought cheers from the crowd and Sanders quickly remarked, “well, that’s one way to say it.”
Sanders didn’t take any questions from the audience or from local and national reporters. After he posed for selfies and shook hands with some of his supporters, he met briefly with a small group of his top Granite State supporters before heading to a second campaign event in the southwestern New Hampshire city of Keene.
The Republican National Committee took aim at Sanders, saying his “radical push for socialism is supercharging the Democratic primary to the left.”
“With calls for government control of healthcare, education and a takeover of nearly every aspect of our lives with the Green New Deal, Sanders' socialist platform will rob Granite Staters of their freedoms while bankrupting America at a cost of trillions of dollars,” added RNC spokeswoman Mandi Merritt.
Sanders arrived in the Granite State on a roll in his campaign – he’s near the top of nearly every national and early voting state public opinion poll in the Democratic nomination race and he raked in a whopping $6 million in the first 24 hours following his February launch.
But, he also has faced competition from a large field of rivals – many of them younger and pushing the same progressive proposals Sanders moved from the extreme to the mainstream of the party in the 2016 campaign.
While many of Sanders’ 2016 supporters are backing him once again, some have said they’re shopping around.
Adam Martson of Dover said “I’d definitely be open to” a younger Democratic contender advocating the same progressive proposals who may have a better shot at winning the general election.
“I’m really interested in who can beat Trump,” he added.
Kendall Rasmussen, who drove up from Medford, Mass., said she backed Sanders in 2016.
“I’m probably leaning towards Bernie but I’m not actually prepared to make a commitment yet. I just can’t say yet,” she explained. “Who’s going to win against Trump. That’s a huge factor.”
And, Melissa Fisk of Concord – one of the few 2016 Clinton supporters to attend the rally – said she’s checking out all the Democratic 2020 contenders and is far from deciding.
“It’s anybody but Trump,” she emphasized.
But, Lorna Wakefield of Sanborton said she’s sticking with Sanders 100 percent.
“Bernie’s the one who started this all. We’re with Bernie,” she emphasized.
And, Chris Liquori of Portsmouth – a member of the Sanders steering committee in New Hampshire – argued, “why settle for the imitation when you’ve got somebody who’s been doing this for 40 years, who brought the party to its knees and brought them where they are now. Why would you go with anyone else?”