Bernie Sanders returned Sunday to Michigan, the state that re-vamped his underdog 2016 presidential campaign, hoping to boost the candidacy of another long-shot progressive looking to score an upset.
Sanders joined Abdul El-Sayed, 33, for two rallies — the first at the Cobo Center in downtown Detroit, and the second in the town of Ypsilanti, 30 minutes west of the Motor City.
Taking the stage Sunday afternoon in Detroit, El-Sayed — who is trying to capture the Democratic nomination in this year’s Michigan gubernatorial race — echoed Sanders’ populist rhetoric, asking the crowd: “Who here believes in democracy over corporate domination?”
Justin Sullivan/Getty Image, FILESen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a health care rally on Sept. 22, 2017 in San Francisco.
“We’ve got a broken politics, our politics right now have been dominated by corporate interests,” El-Sayed told the crowd, saying both parties are to blame for the issues plaguing the current political system.
El-Sayed also trumpeted his plan to create a “Medicare-for-All” healthcare system that he dubs “Michicare.” He added that the state needs to “de-Devos” its education system, an ode to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party.
Sanders hearkened back to his upset victory in the state over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primaries.
“On the day before the presidential primaries here in Michigan, the polls had me 27 points behind,” Sanders told the crowd. “That was pretty good, because the poll the day before had me 36 points behind.
“Well, we won that election, and by the way, so will Abdul,” Sanders said.
Sanders also took a swipe at those claiming that the progressive agenda that he and candidates like El-Sayed are pushing are not broadly popular among the American public.
“What that victory in 2016 showed is that the ideas that we talk about, the ideas Abdul talks about, are not fringe ideas, they are mainstream American ideas,” Sanders said as he thanked the crowd for his upset victory over Clinton.
Pool via AP, FILEMichigan Democratic gubernatorial candidates from left, Shri Thanedar, Gretchen Whitmer and Abdul El-Sayed are seen during their first debate in Grand Raids, Mich., June 20, 2018.
Sanders also took plenty of shots at the president, saying: “We need governors like Abdul to stand up to the greed and pathological lying of Donald Trump.”
Attendees at the rally were eager to hear Sanders’ message, and view El-Sayed as a chance to send Trump a message.
“It will be great to see a real progressive candidate in Michigan’s governor’s office,” said Tariq Nusier. “It’ll be nice to see a switch towards the progressive, to show the country what Michigan is actually about.”
Nusier, 17, cannot vote in this Tuesday’s Democratic primary, but says he plans to vote in the November general election.
At the second rally of the day in Ypsilanti, Sanders was not hesitant to cast the race as a chance to further vindicate the progressive policy platform he so fervently espouses.
“Because of the victory we won here in Michigan…those ideas which were once seen to be by the establishment as ‘fringe ideas’ or ‘radical ideas,’ they are now mainstream ideas,” Sanders told the crowd that was gathered on a hillside adjacent to the Marriott Hotel in Ypsilanti.
Sanders also decried the influence of corporate money in politics, a key issue in the Michigan race, and went after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as an example of corporate greed run amuck.
“Mr. Bezos sees his wealth increase by $275 million every single day, and yet he has thousands of workers who are earning wages so low that they have to go on government programs like Medicaid and food stamps,” Sanders told the crowd.
El-Sayed, who took over Detroit’s Public Health Department at the age of 30, also lamented the influence of corporations in American politics.
“Every project that we took on, every single one lead us to the door of a politician. You think those doors open for people like you and me?” El-Sayed asked the crowd, “No, but they always open for the corporations who have been buying and selling our politics for far, far too long in this state.”
The push from Sanders for El-Sayed comes just days before Michigan Democrats settle one of the most contentious primary battles of this midterm season, as they try to wrest control of the governor’s mansion back from GOP control after eight years under Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. El-Sayed would be the nation’s first Muslim governor if elected in November, but has consistently trailed former Michigan state Senate leader Gretchen Whitmer throughout the primary.
(MORE: A microcosm of a bigger fight, Democrats vie for progressive mantle in Michigan governor’s race)
Sanders’ visit also comes a week after El-Sayed was joined on the campaign trail by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another political rookie who recently unseated one of the highest-ranking Democrats in Congress in Rep. Joe Crowley of Queens.
Mario Tama/Getty Images, FILENew York House candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez smiles at a progressive fundraiser in Los Angeles, August 2, 2018.
Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Michigan will be another key benchmark of the success the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is having in ousting so-called “establishment” figures like Whitmer, who emphasizes her experience in the state legislature on issues like Medicaid expansion and raising the minimum wage.
Whitmer also has the backing of powerful labor groups in the state like the United Auto Workers (UAW), and most of the state’s elected officials have thrown their political weight behind her campaign.
Paul Sancya/AP, FILEMichigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer campaigns in Detroit, July 28, 2018.
El-Sayed has tried to use Whitmer’s ties to the insurance industry, and the fact that her father is a former executive at Blue Cross Blue Shield, as evidence that she is a politician controlled by “corporate interests,” and his frenetic and prolific campaigning in the race’s final days has kept the race competitive.
Also in the mix is Shri Thanedar, an eccentric businessman who has poured $10 million of his own money into his campaign in an attempt to claim the “outsider” mantle that was a cornerstone of Ocasio-Cortez’s and many other victorious Democrats’ campaigns this cycle.
All three candidates have quarreled in recent days over corporate donations to their campaigns, a sign of the importance these candidates and Democrats across the country are assigning to progressive purity in all aspects of their campaigns.
Republicans in Michigan have also been fighting a fierce primary battle. The race has come down to the state’s Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, who has the backing of Governor Snyder. Calley has accused Schuette, who has the endorsement of President Donald Trump, of breaking the law by having staffers sign off on private real estate documents.
Pool via AP, FILEAttorney General Bill Schuette is seen during the GOP’s first debate, May 9, 2018 in Grand Raids, Mich.
Democrats have also accused Schuette of engaging in a “pattern of corruption” during his time as Michigan’s attorney general after e-mails appeared to show him and his staffers using state time to discuss “presidential politics,” according to a report from the Detroit Free Press.
(MORE: 4 primaries, Ohio special election promise key midterm clues)
“It’s part of a pattern of corruption stretching across his entire tenure. He just can’t seem to help himself. Michigan deserves a governor committed to serving Michiganders’ interests before misusing state resources to help himself and his cronies,” Democratic Governors Association (DGA) Deputy Communications Director David Turner said in a statement last week.
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