Bernie Sanders sells the virtues of great government in the Red States

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Bernie Sanders has long argued – but not proven – that his great government populism can win over voters from the largely white rural communities who flocked to Republican Donald Trump in the last election.

Now, as the Senate chief shepherd of a $ 3.5 trillion budget proposal, Sanders believes he has another chance to test the theory.

The Vermont senator is in Trump’s country this weekend, promoting a budget plan rich in progressive initiatives and funded by higher taxes on top incomes. It targets two congressional districts where Trump’s vote totals increased between 2016 and 2020.

“My fellow Republicans are telling everyone that Bernie Sanders and the Democrats are going to raise taxes. You’re right, we’re going to raise them on the richest people in this country, ”said Sanders to the cheers of over 2,000 people who braved the sweltering heat and humidity in an open-air amphitheater in West Lafayette, Indiana, Friday night.

Sanders has scheduled a similar event for Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Sunday. He notes the difference between the two parties since Republicans in Congress approved tax cuts for wealthy Americans in past years, but are expected to universally oppose a plan Sanders calls “the most important piece of legislation.” Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s.

It could be a tough sell for the face of the progressive movement. Republicans have already started using Sanders – along with fellow Democratic Socialist and New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez – in ads warning voters that the country is moving closer to socialism.

Sanders saw his political star rise to the national level for the first time by nearly winning the Iowa Democratic caucus in 2016, and he won the Indiana Democratic primary that year over Hillary Clinton. As he pushed his party to the left and attracted voters frustrated with mainstream Democrats, Sanders and his supporters argued to go beyond the mainstream by appealing to the white working class who can attract Republicans or supporters. non-voters.

“He has a lot of credibility with many audiences who are not just progressive,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the progressive rights group Working Families Party. “He’s a stranger. He’s a populist. And, in fact, what we’ve always said that works best against right-wing populism is progressive populism.

But the evidence that Sanders has a particular influence on Trump voters is limited. According to data from the Pew Research Center, only about 3% of people who consistently supported Sanders during the 2016 primary season, and who were confirmed to have voted in the general election, said they ultimately supported Trump, against 81% who said they had voted. for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll in February 2020 found that 17% of Republicans had a favorable opinion of Sanders, roughly the same proportion of Republicans who had a favorable opinion of Biden.

Sanders is again arguing his case on the basis of a budget proposal that promises a universal preschool and community college with no tuition fees, while increasing federal funding for child care, paid family leave and the fight against climate change. It also expands health care coverage through Medicare, creates pathways to citizenship for millions of immigrants to the country illegally, and encourages states to pass pro-work laws.

Republicans say the plan is loaded with unnecessary spending and tax increases. But Democrats, as long as they stay united, can use their small advantage in every house of Congress to push it through anyway.

“It’s the people’s budget. It’s the budget that will impact tens of millions of lives in this country: the elderly, children, working families, the middle class, ”Sanders said in an interview ahead of Friday’s rally. “So it is appropriate for me that the chairman of the budget committee walks around the country, hears what people have to say. Explain what we are trying to do.

While Sanders is heading for the Red States, his journey isn’t exactly into hostile territory. His 2016 and 2020 presidential candidacies were popular with students and West Lafayette is home to Purdue University. Many of Friday’s attendees were college-aged and wore Sanders shirts from his past campaigns. Some of the loudest cheers came when the senator said he supported the cancellation of all student debt – even if the budget proposal did not go that far.

Sanders also remains popular in Iowa, which means Sunday’s event there could attract far more of his longtime supporters than potentially convincing Republicans.

Yet Sanders scoffed at suggestions that his presidential campaigns had been more successful in energizing wealthy liberals than in increasing his party’s appeal to cross voters.

“Poll after poll, the American people want the richest people, the big corporations, to pay their fair share. They are not rich liberals, they are working class Americans, ”Sanders said.

There is some bipartisan support for key elements of the budget proposal. A July AP-NORC poll found that at least 4 in 10 Republicans said they supported funding for a free preschool, affordable housing, high-speed internet and local public transportation, and nearly 3 in 10 say they support funding for a free community college.

Sanders’ trip follows President Joe Biden and his allies traveling the country to promote the administration’s efforts to strengthen the post-coronavirus pandemic economy. Former presidential campaign rivals Sanders and Biden are not expected to travel together to promote the proposed budget, although Sanders has said he will not oppose it.

The administration’s economic agenda has been overshadowed in recent days by the violence and chaos in Afghanistan. But Sanders says Americans from all walks of life understand that what is going on there and with their wallets at home “are separate issues.”

Republicans believe Sanders hitting the road could ultimately hurt his party in the midterms of next year, when control of Congress is on the line.

“Democrats’ adherence to socialism has helped us win seats in 2020,” Republican National Congressional Committee spokesman Mike Berg said “and will continue to help us midway through.”

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AP Director of Public Opinion Research Emily Swanson contributed to this report.

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