- Sen. Bernie Sanders is on a three-stop tour of Iowa, which raises presidential questions
- In Dubuque, Sanders calls for "a political revolution" and asks supporters to organize
- Sanders is in Iowa at the same time as Hillary Clinton, the 2016 favorite
All the elements were there for low turnout: It was a beautiful, cloudless night, the Iowa-Iowa State game had just ended, and the state's critical place in presidential politics still felt years away for most Iowans.
But on Saturday night in Dubuque, Iowa, roughly 130 people showed up to see Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont talk about elevating the middle class, nationalizing health care and fighting the degrading influence of money in politics.
And they didn't just listen -- they urged him to run for president in 2016.
"We need a political revolution in this country," Sanders said, to applause. "Politics is terribly important, and what happens in Washington and state capitals is also enormously important."
A largely older, markedly liberal audience listened to Sanders for over an hour inside the student center of the local university. Before the event started, attendees chatted about the senator coming to Dubuque and whether he was going to run for president. Many said they hoped so, mostly because they want a liberal option in the Democratic primary in 2016.
"Everything he says speaks to me about who I am as an American, as a voter, as a middle-class voter," said Ann Bodnar-Donovan, who sat in the front row at the event. Others echoed her sentiment.
Sanders did not actually mention his presidential aspirations from the dais, but his event in Iowa -- along with town halls in Waterloo and Des Moines on Sunday -- made it clear that he is toying with a bid.
Sanders told CNN earlier last week that he was thinking about a run and was traveling to Iowa to "find out what kind of support there is for a progressive agenda." He won't say whether he would run as an Independent or a Democrat, but his supporters in Iowa clearly wanted him to run as a liberal Democrat.
Sanders was not the only potential 2016 candidate in Iowa this weekend. Hillary Clinton, the prohibitive front-runner for the nomination if she chooses to run, is headlining the Harkin Steak Fry in Des Moines on Sunday. It is her first event in the Hawkeye State in over six years.
Clinton's and Sanders' events couldn't be more different. The former secretary of state will speak to more than 5,000 people at an idyllic field south of Des Moines. Signs adorn every corner of the event, which will see over 2,500 pounds of steak grilled and served. The only signage for Sanders' event was a small piece of cardboard in front of the building that read "Bernie Sanders."
But Sanders is benefiting from Clinton. People at his event liked the fact he was courting Iowa despite Clinton's front-runner status and was willing to stand up and possibly challenge her from the left.
"I think the Democratic party needs to move a little bit to the liberal, progressive side," said Marcos Rubinstein, who organized Dennis Kucinich's 2008 Iowa campaign. "I want to hear him. Of course I like him, I know his history."
Before his speech, Sanders reflected on the third beheading of a Western individual by ISIS and President Barack Obama's authorization of military strikes in Syria.
"Clearly ISIS is a terrorist organization, a brutal organization, a dangerous organization," Sanders told CNN, before he quickly turned to a topic he is more comfortable about: the middle class and the economy. "In the midst of dealing with ISIS, it is absolutely imperative that we not ignore the huge problems facing the middle class and working families of this country."
The senator did devote a great deal of his speech to speaking about the future of the United States, including outlining a plan he called the "Agenda for America."
His first point was the most well-received: "We have got to restore the democracy to the United States of America by overturning this disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision. ... I do not believe that people fought and died for democracy so that billionaires can buy elections."
Sanders has become a champion of overturning the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which opened the floodgates for outside money in politics and ballooned the amount spent on campaigns. He spent the last week arguing as much from the Senate floor.
On health care, Sanders added that "the United States of America needs to join with the rest of the industrialized world and have a nationalized health care."
Sanders ended his speech with a call to action, urging attendees to begin a conversation and organize support in northeast Iowa for the issues he was addressing.
"Our job is to educate, is to organize, is to go outside our zone of comfort," he said. "We need to build coalitions."