Bernie Sanders told a Madison crowd Wednesday that he hopes to join his onetime rival, Hillary Clinton, to advance liberal causes if she becomes president, while excoriating Donald Trump for making “bigotry a cornerstone of his campaign.”
At a campaign rally at Monona Terrace, Sanders sought to woo the holdouts who supported his presidential bid but aren’t ready to back Clinton, the Democratic nominee, on Nov. 8.
Sanders highlighted a host of issues on which he would make common cause with Clinton if she enters the White House. They include raising the minimum wage, reducing the cost of college, creating a public option for health care coverage, battling climate change, changing immigration laws, reforming the criminal justice system and overhauling campaign financing.
Sanders said the most important reason to back Clinton is to rebuke the Republican nominee, Trump, for what Sanders described as his intolerance.
“We will not allow bigotry to resurface in the United States of America. We have come too far,” Sanders said.
Sanders, the independent U.S. senator from Vermont, also slammed Trump in what appeared to be a response to a New York Times report that Trump may not have had to pay income taxes for as long as 18 years after claiming a $916 million loss on his 1995 income tax returns.
“He’s not alone,” Sanders said of Trump. “Other billionaires and millionaires don’t pay a nickel in federal income tax. We do not think that that is an act of genius. We think that that is a disgrace, and we’re going to change that.”
Speaking to the Wisconsin State Journal after the event, Sanders said those who supported his presidential candidacy but aren’t sold on Clinton must “go beyond personality.” Instead, Sanders said, they must compare Clinton and Trump on the issues.
“This is not a question of liking somebody,” Sanders said in the interview.
“It’s a question of: Do you think we should raise the minimum wage to a living wage? Clinton does. Should we have pay equity for women? Clinton does. Should we combat climate change or do we believe, as Donald Trump does, that climate change is a hoax?”
Sanders dismissed Libertarian Gary Johnson as out of step on issues that anchored Sanders’ movement, such as boosting the minimum wage, opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and curbing carbon emissions.
“Take a look at the totality of his views, contrast them with Clinton’s, and I think you’ll find Clinton far and away the superior candidate,” Sanders said of Johnson.
Asked if swing-state residents who vote for third-party candidates instead of Clinton are aiding Trump, Sanders said such voters face a “hard choice.”
“The hard choice, I think, is whether or not you want to wake up the day after the election and find Donald Trump as your president,” Sanders said.
The Trump campaign in Wisconsin responded with a statement saying “not even Bernie Sanders can help (Clinton’s) campaign.”
“A Hillary Clinton White House would be Wisconsin’s worst nightmare. She’s a 30-year corrupt politician with a proven record of only looking out for herself and her Wall Street friends,” said Pete Meachum, Trump’s Wisconsin state director.
About 1,200 people attended Wednesday’s rally, according to the Clinton campaign.
For months, Sanders has urged his supporters to back Clinton. Polls show not all of them are listening.
Sanders sought to change that Wednesday on a two-city stop in Wisconsin. He campaigned in Green Bay immediately after the Madison stop.
The Madison area has been especially receptive to Sanders’ message — and is home to many of the Clinton holdouts whose votes she needs on Nov. 8.
For Clinton, Madison was an obvious place to deploy Sanders as a surrogate. Dane County helped power Sanders to a Wisconsin win in the April Democratic primary election.
Clinton went on to win the nomination. But as the general election nears, polls have raised red flags about the lukewarm levels of support for both major-party nominees among their parties’ bases.
Among Wisconsin Democrats and independents who lean Democratic, 48 percent of respondents to the latest Marquette Law School Poll — released Sept. 21 — said they would prefer Sanders as the Democratic nominee.
That’s compared to 43 percent who prefer Clinton.
Among Democrats and those leaning Democratic who would have preferred Sanders as the nominee, 55 percent said they would vote for Clinton.
Nine percent said they would vote for Trump, 15 percent for Johnson and 9 percent for the Green Party’s Jill Stein.
Many of the Clinton holdouts are young voters mulling third-party options.
Polls of Wisconsin show nearly 30 percent of voters between 18 and 29 say they support Stein or Johnson.
UW-Madison freshman David Weinberg said he backed Sanders in the primary. At Wednesday’s event, the 18-year-old said he plans to vote for Clinton — but admits he’s doing so “unenthusiastically,” and mostly to stop Trump.
Weinberg said he pondered voting for Stein, but recent polls showing a tight presidential race in Wisconsin made him think differently.
“Seeing how close the polls are here, I think I’m going to vote for Hillary,” he said.