Despite losing a bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, can draw a crowd.
Sanders did just that at a Saturday rally at the Lismore Hotel in Eau Claire. Roughly 1,000 people attended the rally, where Sanders stumped for Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, ahead of a November election Baldwin hopes to win.
Baldwin criticized “special interest” political spending and GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“(Washington is) working well for a group of folks that have powerful connections,” Baldwin said. “Time and time again they call the shots to keep the system rigged in their favor, and that’s what’s at stake this year.”
Baldwin said she has personal history with difficulty finding health insurance.
“As someone who personally was once labeled a child with a pre-existing health condition, I know how important it is we make sure that no one ever again is denied coverage because they were sick in the past,” she said.
Sanders, to applause from the crowd, condemned several of President Donald Trump’s policies, ranging from criticizing the GOP’s 2017 tax reform bill to accusing the Trump administration of privatizing health care.
“That is what (Republicans) believe and that is the direction in which they have taken the Republican party,” Sanders said.
Trump’s recent nomination of a federal appeals court judge, Brett Kavanaugh, to fill an empty Supreme Court seat was a hot-button topic for both senators Saturday.
“He will, without a doubt, become part of that hard-right, five to four majority which stands with corporations against working people, insurance companies against the sick, stands for voter suppression,” Sanders said.
The Vermont senator paused before commenting on his self-avowed Democratic socialist stance.
The ideas Sanders stood for in the 2016 primary election are now “mainstream,” he said.
Some audience members were optimistic that Sanders’ ideology wouldn’t push Wisconsin voters away from the more moderate Baldwin.
“(Baldwin) is cautious about a lot of things. I certainly wouldn’t call her a socialist,” said Charlene Warner of Mondovi, a candidate for state Assembly. “We have an awful lot of people in Wisconsin who are very independent thinkers, and I think they will remember Bernie carried Wisconsin in the primary.”
Sanders won Wisconsin with 57 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 43 percent in the 2016 Democratic primary. Clinton ultimately lost the state to Trump in the November election, 46 percent to 47 percent.
“I don’t think it’s going to dissuade Tammy Baldwin voters because Bernie campaigned here,” said Ray Decker of Tomahawk. “I think Baldwin supporters know what she stands for.”
UW-Eau Claire student Riley Kidess said Sanders will help Baldwin’s cause, not hurt.
“(Sanders) is getting the young people excited, and that’s what’s important when it comes to voting,” Kidess said. “The young people don’t come out and vote.”
Chippewa County supervisor Kari Ives, who represents District 12, agreed, saying Sanders has appeal because he echoes “the people’s voice.”
Cadott dairy farmer Les Danielson chose to praise Baldwin’s bipartisan effort.
“Tammy made sure the bipartisan Senate farm bill, which passed the Senate 87-11, included important reforms to drive growth and provide targeted relief to Wisconsin’s dairy farmers,” Danielson said.
One of the Republican candidates vying to challenge Baldwin in November, state Sen. Leah Vukmir, said Baldwin was “showing her true colors campaigning with avowed socialist Bernie Sanders.”
“Wisconsinites will truly ‘feel the burn’ if Tammy Baldwin’s and Bernie Sanders’ plans to have government take over our health care and make it illegal for Wisconsin to be a right-to-work state are enacted,” read a Facebook post from Vukmir.