MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Bernie Sanders urged party unity, while also delivering a sharp rebuke of Donald Trump, on Wednesday during his first visit to Wisconsin since winning the state's primary over Hillary Clinton six months ago.
"We are not going to allow Donald Trump to divide us up," Sanders told a crowd of about 1,200 people, saying that Trump has made bigotry the cornerstone of his campaign. Sanders' campaign stop comes as Trump has put a renewed focus on Wisconsin, campaigning in the state last week with another visit planned for Saturday.
Polls show the race between Clinton and Trump in Wisconsin to be about even. Clinton has deployed Sanders and other surrogates, including first lady Michelle Obama, to swing states to help her, particularly with millennials. Sanders made a couple of stops at University of Minnesota campuses on Tuesday before hitting Iowa and Wisconsin on Wednesday.
While his message was not specifically geared toward a college audience, Sanders reiterated his support of Clinton's plans to allow student loan debt to be refinanced and to make tuition free for families earning up to $125,000. Russ Feingold, the Democratic candidate for Senate who introduced Sanders, urged young people to vote for Clinton to prevent "right-wingers" from controlling the Supreme Court for a generation.
Feingold served with Sanders in the Senate and is running in a rematch this year against Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who defeated Feingold in 2010.
Sanders touted both his and Clinton's support for raising the minimum wage, protecting the environment, curbing the influence of money in politics and ensuring equal pay for women. He saved his harshest words for Trump, saying "we will not accept insults to Latinos, to Mexicans. We will not accept insults to Muslims, we will not sit back and allow women to be called slobs."
"Donald Trump wants to take us back," he said. "We will not allow bigotry to resurface in the United States of America. ... We have come too far, we have struggled too hard, too many people have died in these struggles, have gone to jail."
The Republican Party of Wisconsin cast the Sanders visit as a desperate move.
"Bernie Sanders is trying to throw Hillary Clinton a lifeline in Wisconsin, but many of his supporters see her for who she is — scandal ridden and out of touch with everyday people," said state party spokesman Pat Garrett.
Clinton's problem with young voters is particularly acute in Wisconsin, where Sanders defeated her by 13 points. Exit polls showed Sanders beat Clinton by 64 points among voters under age 30.
Six months later Clinton still faces hurdles. A Marquette University Law School poll released two weeks ago showed that nearly 30 percent of Wisconsin voters under the age of 30 support either Green Party candidate Jill Stein or Libertarian Gary Johnson, mirroring a national trend. An Associated Press-GfK poll this month found 14 percent of likely voters under 30 supported Johnson while 3 percent backed Stein. Overall, the poll showed Clinton to be running about even with Trump in Wisconsin.
Josh Spitzer-Resnick, a 19-year-old college student from Madison who attended Wednesday's rally, said he already cast his ballot for Clinton in early voting and called her the candidate who "isn't going to destroy our country." But he says many of his friends aren't planning to vote or will vote for a third party candidate.
"There's a lot of people that will just get stuck in the middle," Spitzer-Resnick said.
Randi Timerman, a 25-year-old medical student at the University of Wisconsin, said she voted for Clinton during the primary and plans to next month as well.
"Most of my friends are going for Hillary," Timerman said. "I can't think of any of my close friends who aren't voting for her. If any of them are voting for Trump, they're not making it publicly known."
While there were many younger people at the rally, Spitzer-Resnick noticed another demographic that was heavily represented.
"I'm looking around here and I'm seeing a lot of gray hair," he said.
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer