The Vermont senator rallied a cheering throng in a noisy convention center in western Iowa, promoting the same themes that launched him to a near-tie with Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses in 2016. Sanders noted that he had fought for the progressive issues first.
"Shock of all shocks, those very same ideas are now supported by candidates — Democratic candidates — for president," Sanders told a crowd of 2,000 in Council Bluffs in his first trip to Iowa since announcing his 2020 candidacy.
There were signs from the deafening cheers that Sanders had the potential to reignite the magic of 2016. "I want to welcome you to a campaign which says, loudly and clearly, that the underlying principles of our government will not be greed, will not be kleptocracy, will not be hatred and lies. It will not be racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and religious bigotry," Sanders said. "All of that is going to end."
He called President Donald Trump "the most dangerous president in modern American history" and accused him of trying to "divide us up by the color of our skin, our country of origin, our gender, our religion and our sexual orientation.
"We're going to do exactly the opposite," Sanders said. "We are going to bring people together." In the hourlong speech, Sanders did not bring up the allegations of sexual harassment and other mistreatment that female staffers on his first presidential campaign had made against some of the male staffers.
The crowd was dominated by supporters from nearby Omaha, Nebraska, who are ineligible to participate in Iowa's leadoff precinct caucuses. One Iowa Democrat, Michael Autera, said of Sanders, "I like his platform, what he stands for."
"More importantly, he was the original," the 57-year-old pipe manufacturer employee added. "He had the guts to say it first." The tone of Sanders' event was familiar. The crowd waved "Bernie" signs, wore T-shirts featuring Sanders' familiar shock of white hair and glasses, and interrupted his speech with the chant: "Feel the Bern! Feel the Bern!"
But the landscape has shifted significantly nationally since 2016, when he was the lone candidate advocating for progressive issues including guaranteed health care for all and a $15 minimum wage. Those positions were adopted by several successful Democratic candidates for U.S. House in 2018, when the party seized the majority.
Now, presidential candidates Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren have signed onto Sanders' "Medicare-for-all" bill, which holds out the promise of health care as a right, the potential for national savings from reduced administrative costs and government price-setting, and no more copays, deductibles or surprise medical bills
Similarly, many of Sanders' rivals for the 2020 Democratic nomination support sharply increasing the minimum wage and offering aggressive approaches to tackling climate change. Warren has begun cultivating a following in Iowa echoing a central theme of Sanders' 2016 campaign, calling for "big structural change" to government to attack corruption.
Sanders on Thursday renewed his calls for criminal justice and prison sentencing changes that affect disproportionately minorities. "The principles of our government will be based on justice: economic justice, social justice, racial justice," he said.
Other Democrats are making similar issues central to their campaigns, including Booker and Harris, who as Senate Judiciary Committee members helped work out major prison sentencing changes.