IOWA FALLS — Sounding at times more like the host of a talk show than a presidential candidate giving a stump speech, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders posed a question to the crowd: Who wanted to talk about the stress in their lives?
Several in the crowd of 170 did, taking the microphone to tell heartbreaking stories of stress causing mental illnesses, addiction and hopelessness.
“Is the economy doing great when you have the richest country in the world, and half our people are working paycheck to paycheck?” Sanders asked. “I grew up living paycheck to paycheck, and what wealthy people don’t understand is, if your car breaks down, it’s a family emergency.”
Sanders, who spoke Saturday morning at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, said “half of workers in this country” are living paycheck to paycheck, unable to afford an unexpected expense.
“We don’t talk about it as a nation, but millions of people are feeling that stress,” he said, adding that for those people, life expectancy is going down. “All we are saying is that we want a government and an economy that works for working people — not just the one percent. I don’t think that is a radical idea.”
Calling health care “a human right,” Sanders also spoke about his “Medicare for All” plan, a staggered four-year plan which he would pay for with a 4% tax on income over the first $29,000. For a person making $60,000, he said that amounted to around $1,200 per year — far less than most people currently pay through the Affordable Care Act or their employer’s plan.
“So when you see the ads — ‘Bernie Sanders wants to raise your taxes’ — sure. But Bernie Sanders wants to get rid of the co-pays, the premiums you pay and the deductibles,” he said. “I think paying $1,200 is a lot better than paying $12,000.”
His plan to get rid of all student loan debt he said could be accomplished with “a modest tax on Wall Street speculation,” while his Green New Deal would bring “20 million new jobs,” he said.
“I wish I could come before you today and say, ‘Things have gone pretty well, we just need a little tinker here and there.’ If I told you that, I would be lying,” Sanders said. “This is a perilous moment in American history.”
Kelly Gourley of Mason City said she stopped by the Iowa Falls event on the way to Des Moines and was happy with what she heard.
“Bernie’s the main one,” she said of her top candidates. “He stands for health care for all, which is important to me, and for the Green New Deal, which is also important to me. He’s also for protecting the working class.”
Denny Reynoldson of Iowa Falls said he went to see former Vice President Joe Biden speak recently and left unimpressed.
“I like him, but I don’t think anything’s going to change with him,” Reynoldson said of Biden. “So I think it’s Bernie.”
He said what he liked the best was Sanders’ Medicare for All plan.
“I can’t even afford teeth anymore — my savings are gone,” Reynoldson said, noting his current Medicare plan was costing him too much. “Health care is ridiculous.”
But the biggest motivator, he said, was the current president.
“That Trump, he’s a complete disgrace. We’ve got to get him out,” he said.
Sanders is polling in second, at an average of 18.3% among likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers, according to Real Clear Politics. That’s behind South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, polling at an average of 24%, and just ahead of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 17.7% and Biden at 16.3%.
It’s down from April, when Sanders was at 24.5% — one of two candidates with name recognition here. But it’s also six points up from September, when Sanders had dropped to a low of 12%.
The rest of the field is polling at an average of 6% or less, led by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar at 5.3%. The last Iowa-specific poll taken was Nov. 19.
Sanders also held a private forum in Cedar Rapids for Teamsters members, followed by an open rally at Harding Middle School in Cedar Rapids at 6 p.m., both on Saturday. He planned a noon town hall at Simpson College in Indianola on Sunday.