Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was not the one launching a campaign Wednesday morning at the Silver Spring Civic Center, but the former Democratic presidential nominee’s presence was enough to attract a roaring crowd of more than 500.
Sanders came to Montgomery County to endorse former NAACP President Ben Jealous, one of six Democrats who have declared they are running in Maryland’s 2018 gubernatorial primary to challenge incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
In essence, Sanders was returning the favor to Jealous, who had endorsed the senator during the 2016 presidential campaign. The Sander’ 11-minute speech strongly resembled his presidential campaign rhetoric. He praised Jealous for adopting issues he had championed in the campaign, such as criminal justice reform, a $15 per hour minimum wage and income equality.
“We need more than ever at the statewide level, a very different kind of leadership, and what Ben Jealous is about [is that] he has the radical idea that maybe, just maybe, government should represent all of the people and not just the one percent,” Sanders said.
Sanders seemed intent on speaking about national issues at the rally as opposed to state ones, railing against President Donald Trump, who he said is “temperamentally unfit” to hold office and “whose policies are the most anti-working class in the modern history of America.” He also criticized the president’s proposed budget and the current healthcare plan proposed by congressional Republicans. At no time did he mention Hogan’s name or any of the governor’s policies.
Jealous, who followed Sanders with a nine-minute speech, took a similar approach in his opening remarks.
“We are gathered today on Trump’s doorstep [Silver Spring] to let the world know we intend to get rid of his doormat,” he said.
Jealous, 44, spoke about his and the NAACP’s efforts to successfully advocate for marriage equality and the immigration reform legislation in 2012.
“I’ve been an organizer my entire life,” he said. “The first thing you are taught is that politicians are not elected to make change happen. No, you elect politicians to make it a little easier to make change happen.”
Jealous said he thinks his experience as an organizer will be useful in a key area next year, should he receive the nomination.
“[Larry] Hogan has a lot to worry about,” he said. “The way he got in was because there was low voter turnout. If there’s one thing this former president of the NAACP knows how to do very well, it’s turn out voters.”
Among those at the rally was Montgomery County Council Member George Leventhal, who said he wanted not only to hear what Jealous had to say, but also “shake hands and meet people” in preparation for his own campaign for county executive.
“Honestly I don’t know Ben [Jealous] very well and I have not made any endorsement for governor, but it’s exciting to have Sen. Sanders here in the neighborhood,” Leventhal said.
State Sen. Cheryl Kagan, who has not endorsed anyone in the race, said she thinks Hogan is vulnerable, but whoever challenges him needs explain why. Among the reasons, she said, are Hogan’s environmental record, budget priorities and a “lack of commitment to public schools.”
“We need to make sure Maryland voters know Larry Hogan’s whole record,” she said. “Right now what they know is that he didn’t vote for [Trump], that he had cancer, and that schools are now going to start after Labor Day.”
Kagan said she has also attended events for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and state Sen. Richard Madaleno, two of the other declared Democrats. But she said she had a higher purpose in being at Jealous’ rally: bridging a still-persistent divide between Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton and those who backed Sanders.
“The Bernie people and the Hillary people really need to unite the party if we’re going to be successful next year. I was pretty visible as a Hillary person, and so I wanted to make my mark showing up today,” she said.
Sanders may also have had a higher purpose in endorsing Jealous. He closed his speech by urging attendees to knock on doors and talk to neighbors in order to get more people involved in the political process, which are key ingredients for a “revolution.”
Jealous “can’t do it alone,” he said. “When we talk about a political revolution, we’re not talking about one guy on top doing it all. It doesn’t happen that way. The powers that be are too powerful. Big money interests are too powerful. The only way that change has ever come about and ever will come about is when ordinary people stand up and fight back.”