The presidential contender, in a CNN town hall, sounds almost as if he has already outlasted his primary rivals.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at times Monday sounded like he was already running against President Trump in a general election, rather than the crowded field of Democrats he must first do battle with in the 2020 primary.
During a televised town hall on CNN, Sanders criticized Trump for abandoning working Americans, promised to campaign in “Trump Country,” and even gave a nod to a county in Pennsylvania that voted for Trump after backing Barack Obama twice.
“Trump told working people that he was going to be on their side. He is not on their side,” Sanders said. “By the end of this campaign, I suspect that a number of people who voted for Donald Trump will understand that he is not their friend and that the agenda that we have, which is prepared to take on the billionaire class, is the agenda they will support.”
Sanders also attempted to reach out to voters of color, speaking at length about racial disparities, including the wealth gap between black and white Americans.
Sanders said he believes he can defeat Trump in Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, four swing states that were key to the president’s victory in 2016. He referenced a locomotives business in Erie, Pa., that began requiring mandatory overtime and paying lower wages after merging with another company, he said, while at the same time handing out lavish bonuses to high-ranking officials.
“That is what’s going on all over this country — large corporations cut health care and benefits to their workers and the CEOs make 300 times what their workers make,” he said. “You go to Trump Country and ask people there whether they think that makes sense.”
Sanders’ message may reflect his position in the race: Among the Democratic candidates who are running, he is at the top of the polls. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has not announced yet whether he’ll campaign for the presidency, is the only candidate ahead of Sanders in most surveys.
It also may be a strategy to win over the many primary voters who are most concerned with ousting Trump: A majority of Democratic and Democratic-leaning independent voters said they value the ability to defeat Trump over political ideology, according to a recent Monmouth University poll.
Sanders was asked on CNN about three issues that dogged his 2016 campaign: alleged sexual harassment by his staffers, mistrust among some African-American voters, and his tax returns.