Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders brought his insurgent campaign and populist message to Atlanta on Friday and wowed a crowd of more than 1,200.
“Whether you know it or not, you are now part of a political revolution,” Sanders said after taking the stage to Neil Young’s rock anthem “Rocking in the Free World.” “This is now going to be a loud revolution.”
The Vermont senator spoke for a little more than an hour and fed an eager crowd applause line after applause line, most of them directed squarely at what he calls the “billionaire class.”
“I don’t represent the agenda of corporate America,” Sanders said. “We don’t represent the billionaire class, and we don’t want their money.”
Sanders regaled the audience with a liberal’s wish list: pay equity, guaranteed family and medical leave, free college tuition and more. Each promise brought sustained applause and shouts from the crowd.
Sanders’ visit comes as new polls show him leading or tied with presumed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in the key early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
The candidate relies heavily on small-dollar donations, boasting that he has no super PAC in his corner and that his 400,000 donations, as of June 30, averaged $33. Much of his stump speech is devoted to attacking big money in politics.
Austin Carter, 24, a contractor and Navy veteran, said he first became intrigued with Sanders a few years ago, and now that the Vermont senator is running, Carter, who paid $50 to attend Friday night’s rally, is ready to help.
“It’s the money in politics issue that resonates with me,” Carter said.
The crowd at Sanders’ event was unusual for a Democratic Party gathering in Georgia in that it was overwhelmingly white. Sanders’ ability — or lack thereof — to attract African-American voters, who make up large chunks of the Democratic base, has dogged his campaign.
Clinton’s campaign is aware of the pale nature of Sanders’ support and has said Georgia and other Southern states will help propel her to the nomination.
Tharon Johnson, a top Democratic operative in Georgia who helped lead President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign in the South, said Sanders must find a way to draw more support from black voters.
“The challenge ahead for the Sanders campaign is whether they can build a diverse coalition of supporters to compete for the Democratic nomination in later primary Southern states, such as Georgia, South Carolina and Florida,” Johnson said.
Perhaps sensing that need, Sanders will leave Atlanta and campaign in South Carolina on Saturday and North Carolina on Sunday.
Sanders said he is building a coalition as diverse as America.
“What this campaign is about is bringing people together,” he said. “Middle-class and working families, low-income people, white, black, Hispanic-American, Asian-American, men, women, straight, gay. Native-born and immigrants.”
Victoria Welborn, 34, a school nurse and an African-American, said Sanders’ grass-roots focus inspires her. It also helps that they agree on most issues, she said.
“He best represents my generation,” Welborn said. “Of all the candidates, he’s the one that just … he’s for everybody. He’s the people’s candidate.”