Bernie Sanders takes his populism to red states -- and draws huge crowds
Senator Bernie Sanders (Brookings Institution/Flickr)

This weekend, Sanders took his Southwestern tour to Dallas and Houston. In Dallas, he spoke to nearly 10,000 people. The senator condemned the Democratic Party's political strategy in the South, saying that it has “conceded half of the states in the national level.” He said that when “childhood poverty in Texas is 27 percent, we've gotta take it on. When 34 percent of people living in Texas have no health insurance, we've gotta take it on.” The people sitting in the bleachers behind him took to their feet to applaud when he said it makes more sense to invest in “jobs and education” rather than “incarceration,” something that has become a feature of his stump speech.

Sanders' speech in Phoenix on Saturday night brought together an estimated eleven to twelve thousand people – one of the largest political rallies in the city's history (by comparison Barack Obama got 13,000 in January 2008). The crowd gave Sanders standing ovations at numerous points, such as when he condemned police violence, called for tuition-free college, and demanded that American provide for the veterans of its wars. It's worth noting that, in contrast to Donald Trump's homogeneous audience, Sanders’ crowd was extremely diverse; there was heavy representation of young Latinos, with one activist introducing the Senator before his speech.

Bernie is campaigning across the Southwest to show he has broader appeal than just the safe blue-state regions of the country. It is an echo of the swing through the South that Sanders did in 2013, when he was still considering his candidacy.

“I really strongly disagree with this concept that there’s a blue state and red state America,” he told In These Times in an interview that year. “I believe that in every state in the country the vast majority of the people are working people. These are people who are struggling to keep their heads above water economically, these are people who want Social Security defended, they want to raise the minimum wage, they want changes in our trade policy. And to basically concede significant parts of America, including the South, to the right-wing is to me not only stupid politics, but even worse than that—you just do not turn your backs on millions and millions of working people.”

Although the majority of the address in Phoenix was similar to the remarks the senator has given around the country, there were a few innovations. “God bless Pope Francis,” he joked. “Some people think my economic views are radical, you should check out this guy.” He also ended his address on a note of optimism, pointing out that while some may say this country can never have truly universal health care, this is the same country that in the span of two and a half years successfully defeated both the Germans and Japanese in the Second World War.

Watch the video of Sanders' address below:

In Houston, Taylor Channing, a 25 year-old from Houston who has been volunteering with his local Bernie Sanders group, was thrilled by Sanders' visit.

“It's funny because whenever I found out the other day that he was coming to Houston, I mean it freaked out we weren't expecting such a gift or such an early visit to one of the reddest states in the nation,” he exclaimed. “I've never seen such a response to a progressive campaign in my lifetime. I thought the response I saw to Obama was huge but this is just, I mean it's just, it's insane.”

For Channing, this Southwestern tour is a sending a message to the entire country about the Bernie Sanders’ attitude towards politics. In his mind, Sanders is saying “I have no druthers about showing up in what is perceived to be a conservative bastion and just being who I am and seeing how the people respond.”

By the looks of the response in Phoenix and the expected response in Texas Sunday evening, this strategy is working.