Focusing largely on economic issues and ignoring the potentially thorny revelations contained in the latest round of leaked campaign e-mails, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders rallied support for Hillary Clinton and Pennsylvania Senate candidate Katie McGinty Saturday in Center City Philadelphia.
A crowd of roughly 500 crowded into the Elaine C. Levitt Auditorium to hear a speech that was vintage Sanders, centered on the themes of economic inequality and political corruption that anchored his competitive bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
After receiving an in-person introduction from McGinty — the Democrat who is attempting to unseat Republican Sen. Pat Toomy in a tight race — Sanders took the stage to thunderous applause. He promised the audience a “boring speech,” and stuck to much of the policy chalk talk that defined his failed presidential campaign.
During that run he attempted to frame his then-rival, Hillary Clinton, as an economic centrist and called on her to release transcripts of paid speeches she’d given to Wall Street firms and other corporate interests. Excerpts from some of those speeches became public Friday after the hacker collective WikiLeaks posted internal e-mails from her campaign staffers that contained passages from several speeches. In the leaked portions of those speeches Clinton comes across as more moderate, technocratic, and sympathetic to big business than she did during her run for the Democratic nomination.
That set up created a potentially awkward scenario for Sanders less than 24 hours after the leaks went public. In his speech, however, he did not mention the controversy, insisting instead that Clinton was far favorable to her current adversary, Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Outside the auditorium four people unfurled a banner imploring those waiting on line to “read the speech” and vote for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.
But inside the auditorium, there were few signs of dissent. Many attendees wore Bernie Sanders paraphernalia and the crowd saved its largest cheers for some of the senator’s familiar lines on college affordability and social justice. Still, the crowd applauded when Sanders invoked Clinton’s name, which he often did in conjunction with Katie McGinty’s and his own.
Sanders also sported a large Katie McGinty pin. From a vantage point in the press pen, he did not appear to be wearing any Hillary Clinton-themed items.
That may well be for practical purposes.
Clinton has maintained a comfortable lead in Pennsylvania throughout the campaign. The latest forecast from the website FiveThirtyEight.com gives Clinton an 84 percent chance of capturing the Keystone State’s 20 electoral votes. By contrast, the site shows McGinty and Toomey in a dead heat.
In their remarks, both McGinty and Sanders referenced Donald Trump’s lewd comments about women made in 2005 and released in a video Friday. Sanders, however, refrained from going into detail about Trump’s comments, saying he was too “embarrassed” to repeat them.
Rather, he honed in on the economic policy positions that helped form his appeal. He began by talking about campaign finance reform, emphasizing that Clinton’s Supreme Court appointments would be far more favorable than Trump’s and that she’d be more willing to stem the flow of outside money into the electoral process.
“So on perhaps the most important issue, ending the movement toward oligarchy, what Hillary Clinton has said is that no person that she will nominate for the Supreme Court will get that nomination unless he or she makes it clear that they will vote to overturn Citizens United,” he said.
Sanders also praised the Clinton-endorsed plan to make college tuition free at public universities for students whose families make less than $125,000 a year. That topic energized the crowd, which skewed younger. During the Democratic primary Sanders routinely bested Clinton among millenial voters and polling shows the former Secretary of State continues to perform worse among millenials than Barack Obama did in his campaigns.
In part to help shore up support among the young, Sanders has kept a busy campaign schedule of late. This week alone he’s made stops in Iowa, Michigan, Maine, and Scranton.
As a surrogate, Sanders could be a key liaison to voters like Jack Clark, 20, a Temple student who supported the Vermont senator in the primary and now is leaning toward Clinton because he “hate[s] Donald Trump.” He says others on his campus, however, continue to hold out.
“I was talking to one of my friends last night who was a Bernie supporter from the start and he said he was very upset” that Sanders has formally endorsed Clinton, Clark said.
Most of those who turned out Saturday seemed to be Clinton converts who supported Sanders during the primary.
That included Elisa Von Joeden-Forgey, 47, of Philadelphia, who came out to see Sanders because she didn’t get a chance to see the Vermont senator live during his presidential run. She’s now backing Clinton.
“I’m afraid of Donald Trump,” she said, when asked about her change of heart. “I’m here to support the candidate running against Trump.”
Von Joeden-Forgey’s daughter, Lily George Forgey, 18, wasn’t ready to follow suit.
“I’m voting for Jill Stein because I believe in real change,” she said.
And she isn’t giving up yet on a Bernie Sanders presidency.
“I think if he runs again in 2020 he could really have a chance to change the world,” George-Forgey said.