IOWA FALLS, Iowa (AP) — Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders got personal with supporters in Iowa Monday in the final days before the state's lead-off caucuses.
Speaking to about 200 people in Iowa Falls, the Vermont senator shortened his prepared remarks and turned the floor over to the audience, asking them to discuss life on Social Security benefits and whether they could afford their medication.
Alden, Iowa resident Carrie Aldrich teared up as she told Sanders about the hardships of living with a disability on less than $10,000 a year.
"You're ashamed all the time. When you can't buy presents for your children, it's really, really hard," Aldrich said. "I'm waiting for disability to come through so my parents have to support me. It's just hard."
Others discussed a spike in the cost of prescription drugs or the problems they face when an insurer doesn't cover their medication. Sanders thanked the group and touted his pledges to expand Social Security and create a single-payer style health care system.
"We learned that right here in this room, in this state, in this country, there are millions of people who exactly the same experience," Sanders said. "This is the United States of America, everybody. This is the wealthiest country in the history of the world and millions of our people are unable to receive the most basic necessities of life."
Locked in a close race in Iowa with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sanders has sought to interact with audiences large and small as he tours the state. Before larger audiences, he asks people in the crowd to call out how much student debt they have or what their health insurance co-pays are.
"We have millions of people who are struggling with outrageously high student debt. And some of them are in this room, Sanders said Sunday in Decorah, Iowa, before asking people to tell him about their debt load. "80,000? I'm sorry, you won," he said in response to a shout.
Crowds are responding to the interactive style. Aldrich, who shared a hug with Sanders at the end of the event, said she was so moved by his campaign message that she gave $15 to the cause, despite only earning $5,000 last year.
Aldrich said a neurological disorder and joint deterioration prevent her from working and she is trying to get disability benefits. She said she wanted to speak up because "I want people to know they're not alone out there."