GREENVILLE — Vermont Senator and democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders brought his grassroots campaign to the Palmetto State for the first time on Friday, speaking to a crowd of nearly 3,000 people at the TD Convention Center in Greenville, the first of four stops in the state.
“What this campaign is about is not just electing a president, it is about transforming America. I can’t do it alone,” said Sanders.
He addressed issues such as college tuition and student loan debt, the minimum wage and income inequality, institutional racism and the controversial supreme court decision on Citizens United.
Sanders spoke for over an hour, pausing only to take sips of water and when drowned out by the crowd with spontaneous applause and chants of “Bernie! Bernie!” Despite the impressive turnout and enthusiastic crowds, his campaign continues to be a tough sell in the traditionally conservative Upstate, even among Democrats.
Currently, Sanders is trailing democratic front runner Hillary Clinton by 20 plus points.
The self proclaimed democratic socialist also took advantage of his time in South Carolina to take a few jabs at Gov. Nikki Haley on the subject of healthcare.
“In South Carolina, over 200,000 people would gain health insurance if the governor and Legislature here would approve the expansion (of Medicaid),” said Sanders. “Then, on top of that, the state would gain tens of thousands of good paying jobs and all of this would be almost completely paid for by the federal government, not the state government.
“In my view, it is wrong — it is terribly wrong — to allow a rigid, right wing political ideology to stand in the way of healthcare for hundreds of thousands,” he added. “It is wrong to allow hundreds of people to die unnecessarily because they don’t have medicaid.”
Some of Sanders’ strongest talking points centered around Citizens United, which he described as a “disastrous decision” by the U.S. Supreme Court and vowed if elected he would only nominate a Supreme Court Justice who was committed to overturning the decision.
“Freedom of speech does not mean the freedom to buy the United States government,” said Sanders.
Citizens United is the 2010 5-4 ruling by the Justices of the Supreme Court in which it was declared the government restriction on independent political spending by corporations and unions was unconstitutional. The decision overturned a nearly 100 year-old precedent allowing the government to regulate such spending.
Essentially, it was decided that because the funds weren’t going directly to a campaign itself, corporations and labor unions could spend as much money as they wanted to get people to vote for the candidate of their choice under the umbrella of free speech. It is referred to commonly as “corporations as people.”
Along with Greenville, Sanders made stops in Columbia, Sumter and Charleston during his stay, drawing an average crowd of less than 3,000 in each location — a far cry from the 28,000 who turned up at the rallies in Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.