Rally at George Mason University Draws Standing Room Crowd
Saying he’s one of the few politicians willing to take on income inequality, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) touted Tom Perriello as a conqueror of “right wing economic theories” at a rally April 6 at George Mason University.
Coming off a formal endorsement of Perriello’s gubernatorial campaign earlier this week, Sanders told several hundred supporters that the former congressman’s election can spark a nationwide change away from failed fiscal and social policies of Republicans.
“Tom’s victory will show that America’s moral compass is pointing in a very different direction,” Sanders said.
The endorsement is a natural fit for Sanders, who like Perriello, has unabashedly championed progressive values. A former one-term congressman from Virginia’s 5th District, Perriello won election to the House or Representatives in 2008 representing the traditionally conservative 5th district, which covers much of central Virginia. He lost his re-election campaign in the Tea Party-lead wave elections in 2010, in part because of his vote for the Affordable Care Act. Since beginning his gubernatorial campaign in January, Perriello has used the defeat as a testament to his unwavering support for universal healthcare coverage.
Sanders has called himself a “democratic socialist” and gave former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a closer-than-expected challenge for the 2016 Democratic nomination for president. In the process, the 75-year-old has become a symbol of progressive values and has drawn huge crowds of supporters at rallies nationwide. He has particularly enthralled younger voters, capturing more than 2 million votes from people age 29 and younger in the 2016 presidential primary, more than Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump received combined. His appeal resonated again April 6 at the GMU campus where the crowd of predominantly young supporters cheered him on throughout his half hour address.
Sanders’ outspoken support for liberal policy positions have drawn criticisms from conservatives, and recently led the Republican Party of Virginia to call him “the the most left-wing member of the U.S. Senate.” In Fairfax, as in other public appearances, he extolled a federal $15 minimum wage increase in all states, calling current rates “starvation wages”.
Sanders likewise continued advocating for universal health care and free college tuition in America, saying his plan for trillions of dollars in new spending programs will come by taxing Wall Street investment speculations.
“Our job economically, our job politically, is not a radical goal. It is to create a government that works for all of us, not just the wealthy and the powerful,” Sanders said.
He also reiterated a litany of other nationwide issues he campaigned on in the presidential primaries, including the need for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, efforts to combat global climate change and equal pay policies for women. He also knocked Trump’s budget cuts on social welfare programs like Meals on Wheels and plans for tax cuts for wealthy Americans, saying they were indicative of larger issues in the nation.
“It’s not good enough to just beat up on Trump. That’s a very easy target. Our job together is to move this state, and my state and this nation in a very different direction,” Sanders said.
Taking the stage ahead of Sanders, Perriello focused his stump speech on both the need to further progressive causes and to resist Trump and Republican’s actions. He said this resistance is working in Virginia as evident by being the only southern state to support Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and public protests localy, like those on behalf of immigrants at Dulles Airport.
“We will stand against a ‘bullier-in-chief’ that wakes up each morning trying to decide which vulnerable group he wants to pick on today,” Perriello said. But the resistance has said ‘not us, not here.’ We will stand with our neighbors and be an inclusive Virginia.”
Perriello said along with resisting current conservative policies, he would work to build a stronger, more inclusive government and economy. He has called for free community college for all Virginians, and also supported a $15 minimum wage, though he said he would be willing to compromise with the General Assembly on a “living wage” increase, moving above the current $7.25 an hour that doesn’t reach $15.
Perriello has also dismissed economic plans by his potential Republican opponents that he says cut taxes for the wealthy at the expense of the most needy. He specifically knocked Ed Gillespie, the GOP front runner, and his plans for a 10 percent across-the-board tax cut for all Virginians. Perriello called Gillespie, who worked in the administration of former president George W. Bush, as one of the “great architects” of trickle down economic policies, which he said cut taxes for businesses and wealthy while hurting the nation’s middle class.
“It’s time for us to drive a stake through the heart of the lie of trickle down economics and start building growth from the bottom up which we know works,” Perriello said.
Sanders support for Perriello comes at the expense of incumbent Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who has received nominations from the majority of Democratic party’s establishment wing as well many liberal organizations like NARAL Pro-Choice, one of the nation’s leading abortion rights groups. The race between the political positions of the two Virginia Democrats has drawn comparisons to nomination contest between Sanders and Clinton.
While considered a more moderate candidate, Northam’s campaign has said his positions stack up with progressive credentials, including support from Delegate Cia Price, the only member of Virginia’s General Assembly to endorse Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primary. Now Northam’s campaign chair, she has said in a video released this week he is “someone who has been fighting for Virginians from day one.”
“If you match it up, whether you call it progressive or not, whatever label you choose, if you take your platform on equality, women’s rights, civil rights, economic justice, environmental justice, if you put it all together, he is the candidate who has consistently been there every single time,” said Price, who represents parts of the Hampton Roads area in the House of Delegates.
Even Sanders described Perriello as an underdog, and he has surprised many election observers with the traction for his campaign’s liberal stances in a state that many considered a political toss up. He tied Northam in polling earlier this year, and a more recent poll has shown the candidates are still neck and neck ahead of the June 13 primary.
Virginia It is one of two state gubernatorial races, along with New Jersey, conducted the year after a presidential election and is seen in political circles as a nationwide referendum on the job performance of the president. Trump lost by more than five points to Clinton, and his approval rating has dropped to 37 percent in Virginia. Democrats are hopeful this will translate to strong support at polling places during off year elections that typically draw fewer liberal voters than presidential elections. Early polls have proven positive for Democrats, and they indicate Perriello or Northam would beat Gillespie or any other Republican challenger in the November general election.
“This November we will be the first statewide signal of the Trump era that compassion and fairness will win out against hate and bigotry in Virginia and then around the country in 2018,” Perriello said.