Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders returned to Las Vegas on Thursday, calling for the end of “racist” attacks on immigrants and promising to cut prescription drug costs in half.
In a morning campaign event for Henderson retirees, the independent senator from Vermont focused on prescription drug reform. He shifted priority to immigration at an afternoon town hall, held at Martin Middle School and by far the largest event, as it was the only one open to the public. He also participated in an Asian Pacific Islander community event in North Las Vegas in the evening.
Sanders eventually veered to his consistent campaign talking points on free health care, a $15 minimum wage, combating climate change, higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans and other policy plans he has pushed for in the three years since narrowly losing out on the Democratic nomination to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“This is the wealthiest country in the history of the world,” Sanders said during his first appearance at the Anthem Center in Henderson. “Half of our people should not be forced to live paycheck to paycheck.”
Sanders made his first Nevada campaign stop of the 2020 cycle in March, about a month after he officially entered the race.
The senator has emerged as an early front-runner for the 2020 Democratic nomination. He entered Thursday with national polling consistently placing him second to former Vice President Joe Biden in the crowded field, though a Monmouth University poll released May 23 showed Biden opening up his lead, as well as U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren closing ground on Sanders.
Drug reform cheered
The audience of about 200 Sun City Anthem seniors dialed up their applause for Sanders’ prescription drug reform plans, which he said would lower the cost of medication by 50 percent by allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies, allowing pharmacists to import medication from other countries and by dictating overall drug costs based on what other countries typically pay.
During a question and answer session, Sanders weighed in on Nevada-specific issues. He voiced his opposition to plans for plutonium storage at Yucca Mountain and pushed for harsher gun control — including a ban on assault rifles — in the wake of the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting in 2017.
“I don’t have to tell anybody in Las Vegas — God knows you have suffered the worst mass killing in this country’s history — I don’t have to tell you what an assault rifle can do,” Sanders said.
Some residents questioned the logistics behind the progressive plans and whether the senator was the right man to deliver them.
“I think he sounded good, but the problem in this country more than anything is career politicians,” said resident Michael Thomas. “I appreciate hearing what I want to hear, but I think we need younger people to handle the younger problems.”
Thomas said he wondered how Sanders planned to pay for his proposals and questioned his ability to deliver on them, but he conceded that issues such as climate change, college debt and health care do need new solutions.
Fern Sherri Levine, who moved to Las Vegas four years ago after 38 years as a teacher in Massachusetts, said she enjoyed Sanders’ message, particularly because of her own high insurance and drug costs.
She would like to see him distance himself from the “socialist” label, saying people her age are likely to reject anything attached to it. She said she favors Sanders or Warren, but had not made up her mind.
Support for immigrants
At the middle school, Sanders spent much of his nearly 40 minutes onstage discussing immigration with an estimated crowd of just over 900 people.
“The time is long overdue for us to stand up and to tell this president and his Republican allies that we will no longer tolerate demagogic and frankly racist attacks on immigrants,” Sanders said, prompting a standing ovation.
Sanders did not take questions at Martin and stuck mostly to the policies discussed in Henderson, with some deviation to decry mass incarceration and call for increased abortion rights.
UNLV students Karla Ramirez and Iliana Diaz each said they came to the town hall to hear Sanders’ thoughts on immigration. Ramirez was a part of a group that spoke to Sanders prior to the event regarding the fears of the valley’s undocumented families.
Both said Sanders made good points, but they plan to wait before picking a Democratic hopeful to support.
“We want to see those words turn into action,” Ramirez said.