Sanders draws 20K to rallies in Duluth, St. Paul

Bernie Sanders campaigns in Duluth
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, campaigns Tuesday at a rally in Duluth.
Jim Mone | AP

Updated: Jan. 27, 4:31 a.m. | Posted: Jan. 26, 6:09 p.m.

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders drew roaring applause from large crowds Tuesday for two anti-establishment speeches that focused largely on wealth and income inequality.

About 6,000 supporters showed up for an afternoon rally at Duluth's entertainment and convention center. Four hours later the Vermont senator took the stage before more than 14,000 at St. Paul's RiverCentre.

"Brothers and sisters, it is not acceptable that in America today, the top one-tenth of one percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent."

That's a line Sanders has repeated in countless campaign speeches. Last year Politifact determined it's mostly true. Sanders' claim echoes the findings of two respected economists, but the website also found it excludes Social Security benefits and doesn't take into consideration certain tax laws.

The senator said raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour is one way the nation can begin to narrow the income and wealth gap. He also called for mandatory paid family and medical leave and a trillion dollar construction program for roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

Sanders blasted foreign trade agreements including NAFTA and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he says threaten the middle class by moving good-paying jobs overseas.

As in past speeches, Sanders called America's campaign finance system corrupt. And while he did not mention his Democratic rivals by name, he said he's the only candidate in the party who doesn't have a superpac. The only other presidential hopeful Sanders did mention by name was the Republican frontrunner.

"When the American people stand up, when they don't allow the Trumps of the world to divide us up ... there is nothing we cannot accomplish," Sanders said.

Sanders drew loud applause when he called for free tuition at public colleges and a Medicare-for-all single-payer health insurance program.

Late in his speech, a small group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators chanted briefly, but they could barely be heard over the huge crowd.

A minute later, Sanders called for criminal justice reform and more police accountability.

"It is not acceptable to me or to you to see unarmed people, often African-Americans or Latinos killed in cold blood."

Sanders focused nearly all of his stump speech on domestic issues. He touched briefly on foreign policy when he said the U.S. needs to crush ISIS, but must be smart about it and avoid a protracted war in the Middle East.

Denise Ferguson of Wadena came to see Sanders at his Duluth campaign rally. Ferguson — who's 55 and unemployed — said she likes the candidate's populist message, which reminds her of the late U.S. senator from Minnesota, Paul Wellstone.

"I'm looking for somebody to stand up for the little guy, the common people, and stop us getting ripped off," she said. "We've been abused and robbed from. It's ridiculous."

Ahead of Sanders' St. Paul speech, 21-year-old William Torres of Minneapolis said Sanders' focus on education, especially free tuition, is what drew him to the rally.

"Everyone is always saying if you want a better job, you have to work for it. In order to get that you need a degree of some sort," said Torres, a community college student. "But you can't get a degree if you don't make a lot of money to pay for that degree. It's a circle, really."

Minnesota's precinct caucuses are set for Tuesday, March 1.

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