A crowd of more than 5,000 people roared as Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders stepped out from behind a curtain Friday night and made his way to the lectern at Mesquite Arena.
“You know, I was thinking, I have never been to a rodeo in my life, but I do work in Washington, D.C., and I do hear a lot of bullshit from there,” Sanders said as the crowd cheered. “So, bullshit is not anything that I am unfamiliar with.”
Sanders came to the rodeo arena after finishing strong in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary in the last couple of weeks. And as he stood in front of thousands of Texans, he seemed confident he would win the Lone Star State.
“Let me begin by making a dramatic announcement,” Sanders said. “We’re gonna win the state of Texas.”
Sanders admitted there are people all across the country and in Texas who do not agree with all of his policies, but he said they also know they cannot let President Donald Trump continue to lead the U.S.
“We have a president who is trying to divide the American people up," he said. "He’s trying to divide us up based on the color of our skin, or where we were born, our religion, our sexual orientation, even our gender. We’re gonna win because we’re bringing our people together. Black and white, Latino, Native American, Asian American, gay or straight — we are all Americans. We are gonna stand together. We’re gonna beat Trump. We’re gonna transform this country.”
The Vermont senator continued, calling Trump a corrupt, pathological lying, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobe and religious bigot who may have never read the U.S. Constitution. But, with Texas’ primary election just over two weeks away, Sanders told the crowd his campaign is facing two opponents: Trump and the Democratic Party establishment.
While Trump’s campaign has called Sanders a radical socialist, and his left-wing rivals have expressed concerns about his identification as a Democratic socialist, he said his policies, such as "Medicare for All," abolishing private health insurance and taking on the oil and gas industry, are what Americans want.
Vikas Reddy, an attendee of the rally, said, “I don’t care whether it’s blue or red. I care about the candidate, what they have to offer, what their vision is for our country and I like Bernie’s message: Not me. Us.”
For Soraya Colli, a Dallas community organizer and activist, her support for Sanders is about the overall message of his campaign.
“I am the daughter of an immigrant, and I believe the country my mother hoped would be here for her, and the better life she wanted for her daughters and her family, is not something that has managed to happen yet,” she said. “With Bernie, I hear that hope in a way that I haven’t my entire life. I want that world for my children. I want to fight for that world for me.”
She said she feels Sanders’ campaign has been written off as a youth-led movement, but that this hasn’t been her experience at all.
“First of all, I’m not a kid. I’m 46 years old,” she said. “I have followed campaigns and been an activist for years, and I have never come out for a candidate like I have for Bernie. I really believe this is our time. This is a message that is going to get us through November. I firmly believe that and I’m going to continue fighting until everyone else believes it.”
Sanders is considered the front-runner in the Democratic primary and leads the race for the nomination in the state, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, which came out the day of his Mesquite event.
However, there is still a long road ahead for the Sanders campaign if they hope to win in Texas, something it has failed to do in the past. With 228 pledged delegates, the Lone Star State could make it or break it for any of the Democratic candidates.
The next day, about 20 Sanders supporters gathered at Alexandre’s Bar in Dallas to discuss how they plan to seal the deal in Texas. They shared stories about why they support Sanders as their candidate.
One attendee was the husband of a cancer doctor.
“Every week, she comes home and mentions that she has this new patient that they could’ve saved if they came in a year ago, but they couldn’t afford it," he said. "Now, there’s nothing to be done except for palliative care and let them die well instead of curing them. It’s garbage. It’s horseshit.”
The main purpose behind the event at Alexandre’s, called the Oak Lawn Barnstorm, was getting people signed up to volunteer for the Sanders campaign.
“But, central to that, and what motivates all of that,” said PJ Martinez, regional field director for the Sanders campaign, “are our personal stories.”
Martinez said their field strategy is predicated on identifying areas where there are a lot of delegates up for grabs and placing volunteers on the ground to knock on doors, make phone calls and organize in those Senate districts.
“The DFW area has about 10-12 Senate districts in it that are really highly populated and have a lot of delegates at play,” Martinez said. “This area that we’re in is really important to talk to people in your community, knock on a lot of doors and make a lot of phone calls.”
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He said research shows the most effective way of getting voters to the polls is having face-to-face interactions with them in the two weeks before the election. Research also shows volunteers have to speak with potential voters at least seven times to get them to turn out, he said.
“The way that we as individuals can make a lot of change is by knocking on a door, having a face-to-face interaction and really cementing in someone’s head, ‘Hey, Bernie is actually worth us going out and talking to people in the world too,’” he said.
The Sanders campaign has two pop-up offices in North Texas, one in Dallas and one in Plano, which are open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., where volunteers can get involved. The campaign will also be opening a main office in Dallas on Mockingbird Lane on President’s Day.
“This is a way for y’all to get plugged in,” Martinez said. “That is how we’re gonna win — by activating the most volunteers and talking to the most amount of people that any campaign has talked to in a primary election. That’s how we’re gonna win.”