In Madison, Bernie Sanders draws largest crowd of 2016 presidential race

AP reports

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders touted his progressive credentials before his largest crowd to date Wednesday night as he pushed his campaign into Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s backyard.

Sanders packed the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Madison, filling its 10,000 seats to show his bid to snatch the Democratic nomination from front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The congressman from Vermont has been drawing the largest crowds of any candidate from either party. But Sanders told his Madison supporters they made history by being part of the largest audience to see a 2016 presidential candidate to date.

Sanders immediately went after Republicans and Walker, who made his name restricting collective bargaining rights for public workers.

“When you deny the right of workers to come together in collective bargaining, that’s extremism,” Sanders said to rousing cheers. “When you tell a woman that she cannot control her own body, that’s extremism.”

Walker, whom the crowd loudly booed whenever Sanders mentioned his name, criticized Sanders in a statement issued Wednesday in advance of the speech.

“Bernie Sanders is right about one thing: We don’t need another Clinton in the White House,” Walker said. “On virtually every other issue, however, he stands in stark opposition to most Americans. Wisconsinites have rejected his top-down, government-knows-best approach three times in the last four years.”

The 73-year-old self-described democratic socialist has built his underdog campaign to succeed President Barack Obama on blunt talk about the economy. In addition to advocating a $15-an-hour minimum wage and raising taxes on the rich, he also supports a massive government-led jobs program to fix roads and bridges, a single-payer health care system, an expansion of Social Security benefits and debt-free college.

“The big money interests — Wall Street, corporate America, all of these guys — have so much power that no president can defeat them unless there is an organized grassroots movement making them an offer they can’t refuse,” Sanders said.

The message resonated with the welcoming crowd, many of whom gathered at the state Capitol four years ago to protest against Walker and his move against unions.

“He’s reminiscent of Obama in that he breaks the mold of what we’ve seen election after election with presidential candidates,” said Savannah Kramas, a 26-year-old health care worker from Mosinee. Kramas said she likes Clinton but wants to hear more about her positions.

“I think Sanders has the benefit of being a little more obscure, so he can say what he wants,” Kramas said.