At LA Rally, Sanders Pushes CA as Nomination Golden Ticket

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LOS ANGELES -- Four years ago, California was where Bernie Sanders’ self-styled revolutionary hopes to win the White House came to an end. The democratic socialist had pinned his effort to derail Hillary Clinton on a Golden State upset, but came up far short despite barnstorming across the state for weeks and pre-primary polls showing him within striking distance of the front-runner.

This time around, Sanders is up nearly 17 percentage points in the polls over Joe Biden and exuding confidence about his claim to the 494 delegates at stake here Tuesday, the largest state delegate prize in the country.

“With your help on Tuesday, we’re going to win the Democratic primary here in California,” Sanders told a deafening crowd of more than 24,000 supporters crammed into the Los Angeles Convention Center’s South Hall Sunday night. “With your help, we’re going to win the Democratic nomination, and with your help, we are going to defeat the most dangerous president in modern history.”

Even more so than the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders has made California his 2020 holy grail, building a state organization far exceeding those of his opponents with 22 offices and more than 100 paid staff.

The ground game appears to be paying off and his big lead in the polls demonstrates just how quickly Sanders could snuff out any Biden momentum from the former vice president’s outsized win in South Carolina on Saturday.

Polls show Sanders is all but a shoo-in for this winner take-all state, with the second-place finisher here more of an open question since Biden recently leap-frogged ahead of Elizabeth Warren, but by less than a percentage point.

The Super Tuesday map now largely favors Sanders, and the Vermont senator is already trying to mobilize his supporters to fight any attempt to shunt him aside in favor of Biden -- or another candidate -- at the Democrats’ nominating convention this summer as party leaders fret about possibly losing the House majority should Sanders becomes the nominee.

“The corporate establishment, the political establishment — you are making them very nervous,” Sanders told the boisterous, sign-waving crowd Sunday night. “They are really getting quite upset. They are seeing workers stand up and demand decent wages, young people rise up and demand a higher education without going in debt; [people] are believing health care is a right, not a privilege. And the fossil fuel industry — whoa. They are catching on that the American people understand that short-term profits are not more important than the future of our planet.”

It was a standard stump speech for the liberal lawmaker, who seldom deviates from his well-defined positions and applause lines. But Sanders was more free-wheeling than usual, perhaps feeling emboldened by the polls and the impressive turnout, as well as the withdrawal from the race of former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and billionaire activist Tom Steyer in the previous 24 hours.

If elected president, Sanders pledged to legalize marijuana in every state in the country and expunge the records of those convicted of marijuana crimes through an executive fiat. He also told the crowd he would end “ICE raids that are terrorizing you,” as well as “a border policy that allows federal agents to snatch babies from the arms of their mothers.”

“That won’t happen,” he said as the capacity crowd roared its approval.

Earlier, on Twitter, he had praised Buttigieg “for running a strong and historic campaign” and said he welcomed all of his supporters into “our movement.”

But if Sunday’s night’s rally was any indication, there is little evidence that Buttigieg’s more moderate supporters would immediately join ranks with the Bernie bros and other Sanders’ loyalists. The event featured an indisputably strong anarchist element exceeding the “fight the power” refrain of hip-hop performers Public Enemy Radio, who took the stage at the Sanders event.

Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, who recently endorsed both Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, spent one line boosting Sanders Sunday night while using the rest of her time at the microphone condemning the “corrupt” Los Angeles police. She ripped the LAPD -- out in force to ensure security at the rally -- for its role in making the California government the “largest jailer in the country.”

Meanwhile, the state’s Democratic leaders are largely remaining on the sidelines in the primary. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who survived a challenge from the party’s left flank in 2018, has endorsed Biden. But former Gov. Jerry Brown, current Gov. Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris, the state’s junior senator her ended her presidential campaign in December, have kept their cards close to their vests.

But Sanders hasn’t needed any big-name politico endorsements, relying on Hollywood icons and Latino leaders to speak out on his behalf instead. Actor Dick Van Dyke, 94, who endorsed Sanders a week and a half ago, showed up at the rally Sunday night to sing the candidate’s praises and urge older voters to support him and vote in the primary.

“I would like to say a word about age — I am 15 years older than Bernie. I think he was born the day I got married or something,” he told the crowd.

Actress Sarah Silverman, 49, pushed back against what she labeled as “fear-mongering about Sanders’ proud democratic socialist beliefs and agenda.

“All right, kitten, calm down,” she told the audience. “Socialism is not communism. Second of all, Bernie is a democratic socialist — the only way we will become Russia is if we get four more years of this lunatic, wannabe dictator.”

Perhaps the most powerful surrogate message of the night came from Rep. Jesus  “Chuy” Garcia, an Illinois Democrat. “What we need on Tuesday is a big win in California — are you ready to provide that win that will give us the momentum to win in November?” he asked.

The crowd of supporters, many carrying “Unidos con Bernie” signs, broke out in a chant. “Si se puede, si se puede,” they shouted, a motto of the United Farm Workers of America often uttered during Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

On the same stage nearly 45 minutes later, Sanders implored the crowd to bring all their friends to the polls, along with aunts and uncles, to help him clinch not just a Golden State win but the highest voter turnout in California primary history.

“Let us go forward and defeat Donald Trump,” he said. “Let us go forward and transform this country.”

Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics' White House/national political correspondent.

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