Sanders appears at Chicago rally to take on Clinton in Illinois
Democratic presidential bidder Bernie Sanders appeared Thursday on Chicago's South Side in an effort by the Vermont senator to erode Hillary Clinton's stronghold of black voters' support while also appealing to his populist base of young voters.
Sanders decried Illinois' eight-month budget impasse at an evening rally at Chicago State University, a predominantly black institution facing potential closure due to uncertain state funding.
"What is going on in America? How does it happen that we are making it harder for young people to get an education?" Sanders asked, to cheers. He called education "an inherent part of who we are as humans" and necessary to compete in the global economy.
The public event followed an invitation-only televised appearance with MSNBC "Hardball" host Chris Matthews at Sanders' alma mater, the University of Chicago, where he was a student activist in the 1960s. More than an hour and a half before the Chicago State event started, the school's parking lots were full, with a long line of people snaking around the convocation center.
The visit is the latest of multiple trips Sanders has made to Illinois, where the self-proclaimed socialist has advocated for guaranteed paid family leave, equal pay for men and women, and raising the minimum wage.
"The status quo is wrong, and we are going to change it, like it or not," he said.
Sanders noted that when he began his campaign, his poll ratings were in the single digits. Now, he said, he is ahead of Clinton in some national polls and within striking distance in others.
"We're telling the American people the truth," he said. "People are sick and tired of establishment politics."
His campaign announced earlier this week it would be opening eight field offices in Clinton's home state, including in Lombard, Batavia, Waukegan and Joliet, in a nod to growing support within blue-collar suburbs and heavily Jewish communities along the North Shore.
"Illinois is not a knockout," Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia said of Clinton's campaign in her home state.
Kelsey Costello, who grew up in Arlington Heights and is a nursing student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said she supported Sanders long before he gained popularity. "Free health care for all is just so important to me," she said.
Clinton, born in Chicago and raised in Park Ridge, appeared last week at a rally on Chicago's South Side, where she was introduced by the mother of Naperville native Sandra Bland before heading to a series of private fundraisers. Bland died last July in a Texas prison cell.
Clinton and Sanders have been engaged in a close campaign in the early voting in Iowa, New Hampshire and, most recently, Nevada.
Clinton, however, has a major advantage in the number of "superdelegates" -- elected officials and Democratic leaders -- expected to back her at the nominating convention in Philadelphia this summer.
Sanders and Clinton face off Saturday at the South Carolina primary before the "Super Tuesday" contests March 1.
Illinois' primary is March 15.