PORTLAND, Ore. – Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders kicked off a multi-state tour in Oregon on Thursday by talking about abortion, but honed in on a topic some Democratic candidates have largely avoided on the campaign trail: The economy.
The tour is an effort to energize young voters and shore up support for vulnerable Democratic candidates ahead of the midterm elections. Other planned stops for Sanders include California, Texas, Michigan and the battleground states of Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
“This is the most important midterm election in the modern history of our country,” Sanders told the crowd of hundreds of people gathered at downtown Portland's Roseland Theater.
He criticized the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned the right to abortion, and then turned to the talking points he's been urging Democratic candidates to take up for months, including the nation's wealth inequality; fears that a Republican-controlled Congress may cut Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare; and the way that high corporate profits in the oil, food and prescription drug industries may be fueling inflation.
“If you're sick and tired of paying four, five or even six bucks a gallon for a gallon of gas, understand that the largest five oil companies in America made $59 billion in profits during the second quarter alone of this year,” Sanders said, pinning inflation on the supply chain disruptions stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, Russia's war in Ukraine and “corporate greed.”
The rallies in Portland and Eugene, Oregon, included appearances with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tina Kotek and Oregon’s Democratic nominee for the state's 4th District congressional seat, Val Hoyle. Hoyle is running against Republican Alek Skarlatos for the seat left open by the retirement of longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio.
Typically a bastion of West Coast liberalism, Oregon has become the unlikely site of one of the most competitive governor’s contests in the country. Considered a toss up by analysts, the three-way race features Kotek, Republican Christine Drazan and nonaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson.
Democrats are concerned that Johnson may act as a spoiler by siphoning votes from Kotek and potentially boosting the GOP in turn.
“A vote for Betsy Johnson is a vote for Christine Drazan at this point,” Kotek said at the Portland rally.
Enrique Ruiz, a 24-year-old Portland resident and labor organizer who attended, said he already planned on voting for Kotek but was excited that Sanders came to town.
“The fact that Bernie is coming out here, it sends a very powerful message. If someone like Bernie recognizes that this is important, then I'll be here," Ruiz said.
Sanders is the latest high-profile progressive to stump for Kotek after Sen. Elizabeth Warren visited Portland last weekend. President Joe Biden also campaigned with Kotek during a recent trip to Oregon, and former president Barack Obama has urged voters to support her in a recently released digital ad, as national Democrats pay close attention to the race.
Democrats hope the rallies will energize their base and sway potential Johnson voters to support their candidate instead.
All three candidates will have to woo nonaffiliated voters, who outnumber both registered Democrats and Republicans in the state, although they surpass Democrats by a much slimmer margin.
This story has been updated to remove a reference to a tour stop in Florida, because that event is no longer planned.
Claire Rush is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Claire on Twitter.