Bernie Sanders kicked off the first of three rallies in California on Friday evening, promising to complete what he began three years ago with his improbable bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Drawing a crowd of thousands to downtown’s Waterfront Park, many of whom supported his 2016 run, Sanders laid out a theme of justice that included economic equality, as well as racial, ethnic and religious unity.
“Thank you for being part of a campaign which is not only going to carry California, which is going to win the Democratic nomination, which is not only going to defeat Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in the modern history of our country — but with your help … we are going to transform this country,” said Sanders, an independent, who jumped into the 2020 presidential race a month ago.
The Vermont senator, who is famously disciplined in staying on message, deviated from his stump speech to acknowledge the news that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III completed his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“It is absolutely imperative that the Trump administration make that full report public as soon as possible,” Sanders said to applause. “Nobody, including the president of the United States, is above the law. The American people have a right to know.”
Sanders then mourned the mass shooting of Islamic worshipers last week at two New Zealand mosques. He plans to visit with faith leaders at the Islamic Center of Southern California on Saturday morning.
Otherwise, Sanders hewed closely to the familiar themes of his 2016 campaign, calling for Medicare for All and a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage. The speech had a distinctly triumphant tone as Sanders recalled how his positions used to be seen as outside the political mainstream.
“Those ideas that we talked about four years ago … that seemed so very radical — well today, virtually all of those ideas are supported by a majority of the American people,” said Sanders, 77. He added that Democratic presidential candidates have hopped on board as well.
“It turns out that justice is not such a radical idea!” he said.
Sanders also relished lacing into the president, saying Trump “embarrasses us every day” and mocked him as an out-of-touch child of privilege.
The anti-Trump rhetoric won cheers from the crowd, but Sanders emphasized his campaign was not just about defeating Trump but taking on Wall Street, insurance companies and drug manufacturers that “control the economic and political life of our nation.”
The promise of “political revolution,” which many in the crowd said drew them to Sanders’ 2016 campaign, was a bigger draw than the focus on Trump for some attendees.
“I’d rather hear Bernie talk about how he’s going to change the country, rather than waste any time on Trump,” said Al Meier, a 76-year-old retired teacher from El Cajon.
The San Diego gathering marks the first large-scale rally in California for Sanders as a 2020 presidential candidate.
Earlier this week, Sanders spoke in support of striking research and technical workers at UCLA, offering an abbreviated riff on the issues that defined his political brand: aligning with organized labor, lambasting corporate employers and pledging sweeping social programs such as tuition-free college.
Sanders will host a rally at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon and another in San Francisco midday Sunday.