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Bernie Sanders in Portland: What to Expect

Friday, August 07, 2015


US Senator and Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders is crisscrossing the country holding rallies as if it were late October 2016 and the Presidency was within reach. The reality is that we are still 9 months until Oregon’s Primary and it’s a ballot he is far from guaranteed to even have a spot on. That isn’t stopping him from coming to Portland.

The headlines after Sanders' visits invariably suggest the event was his largest to date. This Sunday’s will be no different. The campaign recently shifted the event, opening up an additional 7,000 seats by moving from the Memorial Coliseum into the Moda Center. If they had filled the much smaller Coliseum, it would still be the largest event to date.

Local Sanders campaign volunteer Casey Houlihan spoke to this. "Moving the venue was critical. They've had to do this almost everywhere so far, it’s unreal. [Sanders] drew 10,000 in Portland, Maine! I wouldn't be surprised if we doubled that and see 20,000 cheering supporters show up on Sunday."

The capacity of the Moda Center is 20,000. Shortly after the rally was announced, speculation was 9000 people had already RSVP’ed and 5500 have RSVP’ed on an unofficial Facebook page.

Sanders' rally follows Hillary Clinton’s campaign stop in Oregon this week. Her visit was to a giant Dunthorpe home owned by wealthy supporters. Most attendees had to chalk up $2700 to attend. Her stop here was one of three fundraising stops of that day. Less than 100 people could afford a golden ticket to that event.

So what should you expect when you show up at the Moda Center this weekend? First, there is no cost to attend. That’s mighty inexpensive for what promises to be the political sideshow of the year. It will also likely dovetail into the largest policy speech held in Oregon in a long time. Many Oregonians feel a kindred spirit with Vermonters such as Sanders. One can expect plenty of sandals and ponytails in the audience. That’s not something you would see at a Clinton Fundraiser.

Of course if you look closely, you’ll find this will also be the who’s who of Oregon politics. While Governor Kate Brown’s Office confirmed that she is not planning to go, she may be one of the only high profile Oregonian politicos to miss out. The Mayor of Portland has said he is planning to be there. His potential rival in the coming election, State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, is also like to be on hand. You can expect many other high profile elected officials and party officers on hand has well.

Once inside, you may well find all the excitement of a Trailblazer’s game. When Sanders takes the stage, you’ll know that you are part of something happening in our country that seems to defy political common sense. While the race for President this year has everything you would expect: a dozen and a half Republicans vying for the nomination and Hillary Clinton commanding the race for the Democratic side, the 2016 Election may well be another Bush v. Clinton race. I wouldn’t count on it.

As much as Republican front-runner Donald Trump is touching a nerve in the heart of America, so is Bernie Sanders. While both would surely grimace at any comparison to one another, two commonalities is they each have their fingers on the pulse of the concerns of hundreds of thousands of Americans and they speak their minds, often to a fault.

Of course Bernie Sanders is the polar opposite of Donald Trump. His fiery campaign rhetoric bashes billionaires such as Trump. On Sunday, Sanders will surely touch on the themes that have built his surprisingly strong following: reforming Wall Street, wealth inequality, living wages and getting money out of politics. In short, Sanders' message sounds akin to something you would hear at almost any local Democrat (or minor party) meeting or even at union halls in Oregon. To the extent Trump has his finger on the pulse of Tulsa, Sanders has his finger on Portland.

You can also expect that Bernie won’t be short-winded. A one-man show allows him the opportunity to not just highlight what concerns him, but he follows up with concrete solutions. Those solutions often sound defiant of the status quo and will provide lots of red meat for the liberal audience.

After a long career being an unabashed liberal, Sanders' chances of winning the Primary seem low. Perhaps along the way he’s realized the lesson from Janis Joplin’s Bobby McGee, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” He is free to speak his mind. His career has taken him to the highest levels of government. If he loses this race? That’s where he’ll remain.


Related Slideshow: The Top 10 Most Politically Engaged States

A study by WalletHub ranked the 50 states based on their political engagement based on six key metrics, ranging from the percentage of registered voters in the 2012 presidential election to the total political contributions per adult population. Oregon ranks number 10. See which other states made the list. 

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