Presidential oratory

Primary results color Bernie Sanders’ campaign speech in Chico

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Jon Luvaas has long admired Bernie Sanders. He’s involved with the local group North Staters for Bernie and is one of six delegates from the 1st Congressional District who will head to Philadelphia in July for the Democratic National Convention. He is, as they say, feelin’ the Bern. And though he’s not much for hero-worship, he was excited to see the animated, white-haired senator from Vermont up close when he spoke at Chico State last Thursday (June 2).

“He covered virtually every issue,” Luvaas said. “It was astounding. All the big components of environmental, social, racial and economic justice. … That’s what it should all be about.”

Sanders’ candidacy has gone from fringe to mainstream over the past year, becoming a legitimate challenge to Hillary Clinton’s bid for the democratic nomination. And that fight touched down big-time in the North State. Former President Bill Clinton stumped for his wife at Shasta College the same night Sanders spoke in Chico. Meanwhile, on the GOP side, Republican nominee Donald Trump paid a visit to Redding Municipal Airport the next day (see “On the tarmac with Trump,” page 8).

It was a whirlwind. Take this rarity: TV reporters from CNN, NBC and ABC parachuting in to tweet about something happening in Chico. Sanders is, after all, the most relevant politician to pass through Chico in recent memory, and his visit came just days ahead of California’s critical primary election on Tuesday (June 7). Winning California, Sanders said during his speech to about 5,800 people at Thursday’s rally, would be a huge boost to momentum heading into the Democratic National Convention.

“If we have a big voter turnout here in California, we’re going to win, and we’re going to win it big!” he said to applause.

Earning the Democratic nomination would also ultimately help Sanders keep the Republican nominee out of the White House.

“If we come out with the Democratic nomination, let me assure every person here: Donald Trump will not become president,” he said, drawing perhaps the biggest cheer of the night and chants of “Bernie! Bernie!”

As of the day before the primary, Luvaas and Sanders had planned to lobby the superdelegates who’d come out early in support of Clinton.

“I think they will start peeling off,” Luvaas said. “Bernie’s already started turning some of the superdelegates. I think that will continue, and that’s certainly a role I will have—having conversations with these people and getting them to change over”

But that outcome would largely depend on how the Vermont senator fared on Tuesday at the polls. Though Sanders secured Montana and North Dakota, Clinton edged him out in the other contests. And in the Golden State, as of the CN&R’s press time with 94 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, she won handily: 56 percent to 43.1 percent. And in the bigger picture, Clinton was on top of the delegate count, 2,755 to 1,852, as well (candidates need 2,383 for nomination). Those figures include the superdelegates, who officially vote at the DNC Convention. Though Sanders vowed to fight for every vote in the last primary, in Washington, D.C., next week, the likelihood of Clinton not securing the nomination is remote.

No matter what happens between California’s primary and the July convention, the thousands who gathered at the university to hear Sanders speak will carry with them the excitement of the event.

As the scorching day turned to dusk, Sanders’ voice projected from stacks of speakers on either side of the stage and echoed off the red-brick façades of Chico State’s Laxson Auditorium and Kendall Hall. There was palpable energy in the crowd as the Vermont senator, in his distinct Brooklyn accent, touched on a bunch of hot-button issues—income inequality, climate change, women’s reproductive rights, health care, the criminal justice system, law enforcement and lethal force, legalizing cannabis and the “corrupt campaign contribution system,” to name a few.

And, of course, Trump.

“It’s extremely difficult to keep up with ‘the Donald’ because, every day, he makes a statement more absurd than the day before,” he said, later adding: “We don’t want a president who insults Mexicans and Latinos. We will not have a president who insults Muslims, who every day insults women, who insults veterans and insults the African-American community.”

Judging by the crowd’s reaction, many in attendance were moved. Indeed, it was a rousing speech for supporters such as Irene Alexis, who shook Sanders’ hand after volunteering in the event’s ADA-seating sections. She spoke to the CN&R by phone the next day.

“Everybody’s seen his stuff online, but it’s a lot different in person,” she said. “There’s a lot more energy, he’s an excellent orator and he gets his point across really well. He’s great at pumping up the crowd, for sure.”

In terms of demographics, a good cross-section of Chico turned out. Which is to say, mostly white people, perhaps skewed a bit toward a younger crowd—including one boy who looked maybe 11 years old wearing a “Fuck Trump” button on his T-shirt.

From Alexis’ perspective, Sanders naturally appeals to young adults, loosely defined as anyone under 45 years old.

“For a long time, young people—whether you want to call them Gen X or Y or millennials—have these ideals that older generations have pooh-poohed,” she said. “We’ve been told we’re too idealistic on things like marriage equality, universal health care and affordable education. Now, we have a politician running for president who’s representing what our values are.

“That’s what I took away [from his speech]: This person actually reflects what I believe in and where I want to see our country go.”

Even if Sanders isn’t the Democratic presidential nominee, his campaign’s surprising run may cause more progressive ideas to catch hold within the Democratic party, Luvaas said.

“If Hillary becomes the nominee, I think she’ll be obliged to make considerable concessions to Bernie’s supporters—to put out an olive branch,” he said. “Much more than a token concession.”