CHICAGO (AP) — Bernie Sanders called on thousands of college students to join him in fighting for a $15 minimum wage, women's rights and slowing climate change during a stop at his alma mater Monday that had echoes of Barack Obama's successful White House bids.
The Democratic presidential candidate and independent senator from Vermont urged about 2,000 cheering students at the University of Chicago to register to vote and stand up to the "millionaires" he says are trying to control U.S. politics. Sanders graduated in 1964 from the university, where as a self-described mediocre student he led protests against racially segregated housing and said he got his first taste of "democratic socialism."
"We need the idealism and the energy and the intelligence of millions of young people to join us in the fight to make America the kind of country we know it must become," Sanders said. "There is nothing that I am telling you today that is pie-in-the-sky, that is utopian. Nothing."
While Hillary Rodham Clinton is seen as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Sanders has been strong in recent polls, particularly in early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. His roughly 45-minute speech touched on several issues specific to young people, including the high unemployment rate of recent high school graduates.
The event was reminiscent of those held by Obama, who campaigned aggressively on college campuses and relied on young voters to help him win two terms. Organizers said that in addition to the 2,000 people who got seats for Sanders' speech, another 2,600 were on the waiting list.
Obama also taught at the private university, which is near his Chicago home and the future site of his presidential library. Former Obama adviser David Axelrod, who now runs the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics, introduced Sanders and joined him on stage for a brief question-and-answer session.
Fourth-year student Jenny Keroack, who skipped her first class of the school year to attend the speech, said the excitement among the audience also reminded her of the enthusiasm for Obama's campaigns. She said it could be helpful to Sanders if he's still in the running when Illinois holds its primary March 15 — more than month after Iowa and New Hampshire.
"What he said was resonating so well with this crowd," Keroack said. "I think definitely as the race moves forward (students) are going to think about this speech."