WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – He went after Wall Street and corporations. He addressed economic inequality and student debt.
Bernie Sanders came out swinging in front of an enthusiastic crowd at Purdue University Wednesday, the first of two campaign stops scheduled for the day. Sanders positioned himself as an underdog who would fight for the middle class and stamp out corporate corruption.
He criticized the rise of political action committees that he said have fundamentally bought elections. He pledged to change the status quo but said he couldn’t do it alone, imploring voters young and old to bring about “a political revolution” where millions of people “stand up and fight back.”
Sanders spoke for more than an hour in West Lafayette. The crowd greeted him with chants of "Bernie, Bernie, Bernie!" when he took the stage.
"This is our first campaign event in Indiana," Sanders said. "This will not be our last campaign event in Indiana."
Sanders said his campaign started as a "fringe" group but has since grown into a national movement.
"If we want a candidate who will be the strongest Democratic candidate to beat Trump or any other Republican candidate, you're looking at the candidate right now," he said.
Sanders told the crowd he's a strong candidate because he appeals not just to Democrats, but also to independents and some Republicans. He said he was "overwhelmingly" winning the independent vote.
"We are in this campaign to win and become the Democratic nominee," he said, acknowledging that he's behind on delegates and telling supporters that "unusual things can happen in politics."
Sanders talked about transforming the Democratic Party and the political system itself, expressing disgust at "corporate greed" that's put billionaires ahead of the vast majority of Americans. Sanders wants a $15 an hour minimum wage, something he said will uplift the poor and middle class.
"What democracy is not is a corrupt system that allows billionaires to buy elections," he said, warning those in attendance that the U.S. was moving the direction of an oligarchy in which the rich controlled the economy and political system.
In some of his most pointed comments, Sanders criticized Walmart and the Walton family. After calling the Waltons the richest family in America, Sanders said the company didn't pay its workers enough. In Sanders' eyes, that creates an imbalance and a "rigged economy," something he referenced multiple times during his speech.
"A rigged economy is when you in the middle class pay higher taxes to subsidize employees for the wealthiest family in America," he said. "You should not be having to subsidize Walmart employees."
He added, "pay your workers a living wage."
Sanders expressed dissatisfaction with trade agreements that he said have favored corporations at the expense of U.S. workers. He said the NAFTA alone has cost Indiana 113,000 good paying manufacturing jobs since it went into effect in 1994. He mentioned Carrier Corporation, a hot-button topic for every candidate who's visited the state.
"This is a company that made a profit of more than $7 billion last year. This is a company that pays its CEO over $14 million in compensation last year. This is the type of corporate behavior that has got to end."
Sanders said the U.S. needed to do a better job of taking care of the poor and vulnerable, especially children. He said possession marijuana should be not be a federal crime; instead, he believes it should be something for states to decide. In one pointed remark, he said someone arrested for marijuana has a criminal record for the rest of their life while the rich face few consequences for their transgressions.
And Sanders also discussed his plan to provide free tuition to public universities and colleges, a plan he believes he can fund by taxing Wall Street speculation. He told the audience that the global economy is changing rapidly and America must adapt with a new approach to education. He left his supporters with a promise.
"We are going to change the status quo."
Later in the day, Sanders will travel to Indiana University in Bloomington. The Vermont senator will hold a rally at the Indiana University Auditorium at 7 p.m. Doors for that event open at 5 p.m. You can RSVP here.