LACONIA — One of the largest crowds in recent memory to turn out for a campaign event in this city showed up for a campaign rally Sunday afternoon at the Lake Opechee Inn's Conference Center, where Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke to more than 400 people.
Acknowledging how important New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary is to his campaign, Sanders told the enthusiastic crowd, "If we can win here, we will have momentum which will carry us all around this nation.''
Sanders, the Independent U.S. senator from Vermont, buoyed by a poll last week which showed him trailing Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton by only eight points, 43-35, said that Sunday was a good day as he had drawn more than 300 voters at a Rochester event and more than 500 in Durham, and said that the reason he was drawing big crowds is that his message on income inequality is resonating with people.
"We're telling it like it is and we're telling the truth and people across America are responding,'' he said.
The 73-year-old native of Brooklyn, N.Y., who describes himself as a democratic socialist, was mayor of Burlington, Vt., for eight years before being elected to U.S House in 1990, where he served eight terms before being elected to the Senate in 2006. During that election, in which he again ran as an independent, he was backed by the Democratic Party, with which he continues to caucus.
Sanders called for a transformation of American politics, ''a revolution'' which he says is needed because for the last 40 years most of the economic gains have gone to the wealthy. ''The rich are getting richer and the middle class is disappearing. Economic inequality is the moral issue of our time,'' said Sanders.
He said that it is ''profoundly wrong when the top one-tenth of one percent of Americans own as much wealth as as 90 percent of the people,'' and said, ''enough is enough. They cannot have it all.''
He said that the American media and both the Republican and Democratic parties have fallen down on their responsibilities to address the problem of 99 percent of the wealth being generated in the country going to the top 1 percent, and said that the situation is so absurd when eight members of wealthiest family in America, the Waltons, who own Wal-Mart, earn more in one year than 130 million Americans at the lowest end of the economic ladder.
'''They earned 157 billion in two years. That's more wealth than is owned by 40 percent of the American people. That has got to change.''
He decried the lack of concern for their fellow citizens shown by the wealthy, whom he says continue to evade their responsibilities by hiding their money in accounts in the Cayman Islands. ''They must accept their fair share of responsibility,'' said Sanders, maintaining that he wealthy have set up a rigged economy and are now taking control of the nation's politics through unlimited and unaccountable spending on campaigns brought about by the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sanders called for a constitutional amendment to outlaw massive contributions and for publicly-financed elections.
He said that the average American family is making $5,000 less a year than it was in 1999 and that the country needs an economy which works for the middle class, not just a handful of billionaires.
Sanders said youth unemployment is untenably high -- 33 percent for whites, 36 percent for Hispanics and 51 percent for African-Americans -- and that the United States leads the world in the number of people it incarcerates. ''It's time to rethink the way we deal with young people and create jobs rather than jails.''
He called for a $15 minimum wage, free college education at all public universities for all students who qualify, as well as family medical leave and sick time .
Sanders also supports universal healthcare, a ''Medicare for all'' plan, as well as a one trillion infrastructure plan over five years which he said would create 13 million jobs.
He said that the current-day Republic Party is intent on repealing Obamacare, which he said would take health insurance away from 27 million people, and wants to cut back on Medicare and Medicaid while reducing Pell grants for college students by $90 billion over 10 years.
Sanders said that he intends to campaign in every state, even those which vote heavily for Republicans, and wants to reach out to working class Republicans, whom he says are voting today for candidates who want to take away their healthcare, send jobs overseas and pass tax cuts for the wealthy,
''We've got to reach out to our Republican friends who are working class, and get them to support our agenda,'' said Sanders.
Among those in the audience who said that they would vote for Sanders were Bob and Mary Bee Longabaugh of Alton, Paul Duncanson of Franklin and Jim Lintner of Franklin.
''He's a fireball, and I like that,'' said Lintner.
Dave Pollak of Laconia, who was recently elected chairman of the Belknap County Democratic Party, said that he is neutral in the campaign but was greatly impressed by the turnout for Sanders and the organizational skill of his campaign.
''He's showing that he's a serious candidate and that he's offering real answers,'' said Pollak.