Sanders rally in Charlotte draws a mix of committed, undecided supporters

Bernie Sanders rally
Sen. Bernie Sanders receives applause for his progressive policies at his Feb. 14 rally in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Maura Turcotte/MEDILL)

Maura Turcotte
Medill Reports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Sen. Bernie Sanders left his rally to a standing ovation. Macasha Campbell left undecided.

Campbell, 29, voted for the progressive candidate in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary and said she might vote for him again. Marijuana legalization, student loan forgiveness and health care expansion — some of Sanders’ key issues — are also some of her key issues in this year’s presidential election.

But, she added, she’s also interested in Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota moderate who scored a surprising third-place finish in New Hampshire, finishing behind Sanders and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

“There’s a lot of bills that she has championed and gotten through,” Campbell said at Sanders’ Feb. 14 event in Charlotte. “There’s something to be said about results, and she totally has gotten results.”

Many of the 2,000 attendees to Sanders’ Friday afternoon rally were ardent supporters, waving “Bernie” signs and clad in campaign gear. But some, like Campbell, were still flirting with candidates seen as less politically disruptive.

Nationwide, most people haven’t mind up their minds either. According to a Quinnipiac University national poll released Feb. 10, only 42% of Democratic voters have their minds made up, while 56% reported that they might change their preferences before the polls open.

Sanders, who emerged as the front-runner in the Democratic race to face President Donald Trump after winning the New Hampshire primary, has been attempting to secure and expand his base ahead of Super Tuesday, on March 3. The packed day will include North Carolina’s primary, as well as 15 other contests, and see former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has spent nearly $400 million on ads, on ballots for the first time.

The Charlotte rally featured a number of celebrities who energized the crowd and urged supporters to vote early. Actress Susan Sarandon touted Sanders’ left-leaning policies, while also saying that Sanders is building a progressive and inclusive movement.

“We’re going to commit to fight for everyone — for everyone,” Sarandon said. “This tent is so big, people that have never been political before have room in this tent, and we’ll welcome them, every color, every size, every age — everyone.”

An attendee in the crowd at one point yelled, “No centrism,” a line that Sarandon repeated back in agreement.

Wrapping up the rally, Sanders ran through a litany of his policies, paying particular attention to issues pertinent to the North Carolina crowd, such as teachers’ pay and health care. Educators in the state are currently debating striking for higher pay and Medicaid expansion.

Sanders, promising that “change is coming,” also stressed the importance of community to his presidential run.

“The message of our campaign is us, not me,” he said.

While Daniel Lee caught the tail end of the rally on his way home from his work as a software engineer, he was glad he came. He said he strongly supports Sanders because of his plan to tax the top 1% wealthiest households.

“What he’s saying here today is the same thing he’s been saying for years, for decades,” Lee, 27, said. “And for me, I’m not someone who changes their opinion very quickly, and I respect anyone who has the conviction to have an opinion and stay with it and really fight.”

The Charlotte resident also said he supported Sanders in the 2016 primary — so much so that he didn’t vote for the eventual Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or Trump.

This time though, Lee said he would consider other candidates if Sanders didn’t win the nomination.

“My second choice was Andrew Yang. He’s obviously not in it anymore,” he added. “Second choice after that is either Warren or I guess I would probably settle for Buttigieg, but the two I’m really most in sync with are Sanders and Warren.”

Jennifer Bialos, like Campbell, said she was caught between Sanders and Klobuchar. As an independent contractor, she said she supports the idea of expanding health care, but didn’t know much about Sanders’ Medicare for All policy and if it was “sellable.”

She said she showed up to the rally because she wanted to see Sanders in person, but she thought that perhaps Klobuchar was more electable because of her moderate politics and Midwest heritage.

“She comes from the middle class. I think she’s very genuine the way she comes across. She’s very youthful,” Bialos, 51, said, adding that she also wants to see a woman win the presidency.

But after Sanders’ speech, which included his explanation of how he would gradually expand Medicare by age groups until everyone is covered, Bialos said she felt differently.

“Sanders swayed me,” she said. “I’m 51 and instead of having to wait to 62 or 65 to get Medicare — I do like that.”

Photo at top: Sen. Bernie Sanders receives applause for his progressive policies at his Feb. 14 rally in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Maura Turcotte/MEDILL)