Sen. Bernie Sanders rallies young people ahead of Election Day in Madison

By: - November 7, 2022 6:43 am

Sen. Bernie Sanders rallied young voters on Friday in Madison. Photo by Baylor Spears/Wisconsin Examiner.

UW-Madison students with their phone cameras trained on stage waited in anticipation to catch the moment Senator Bernie Sanders emerged at the Orpheum Theater on Friday night. 

The Vermont senator and unsuccessful presidential candidate visited Madison in a last-ditch attempt to get out the vote for Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is challenging Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, and Gov. Tony Evers, who is running for reelection against Republican businessman Tim Michels. 

“This is not about Bernie,” Sanders said as the crowd chanted his name. “This is about you and it’s about getting Mandela Barnes into the U.S. Senate, and you can make that happen.” 

Sanders’ visit follows a line of prominent Democrats — including former President Barack Obama, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren — who have visited this battleground state in recent weeks to garner additional Democratic votes. 

Democrats have been ramping up their campaigning efforts in an attempt to keep control of the U.S. Senate, which is currently split 50-50. The Wisconsin race between Johnson and Barnes could be a deciding factor. 

With these stakes, Sanders took direct aim at the Republican senator: “I know Ron Johnson. I’m chairman of the budget committee. He’s on that committee, and I don’t dislike him personally, but his political views are unbelievable.”

The progressive senator, who has been popular among young and working class voters, has spent recent weeks trying to mobilize those groups,  which could play a key role on Election Day as Wisconsin’s high-profile races are likely to come down to slim margins. 

Attendees videoed Sanders as he walked on stage Friday. Photo by Baylor Spears.

Sanders’ address focused heavily on issues most relevant to young voters including abortion rights, climate change and college affordability. 

The abortion issue was  at the top of mind for attendee Tabatha Leekeenan, a UW-Madison student, who voted early Friday for Evers and Barnes at Union South on campus before the rally. 

The freshman from California said this year’s elections have been on her radar for a while, and she purposefully waited to register to vote in Wisconsin because she felt her vote would count more here. 

“Abortion rights are just something that’s really, really important to my family and our family values,” Leekeenan said. “And I really wanted to make sure my vote is going towards something that is going to make more of a difference.” 

Sally Welsch, a student from Appleton, Wis., said she always wanted to see Sanders because she supports his views on issues like abortion, equality and racial rights. However, she said she hasn’t lived in a city that he’s visited before. 

Welsch said she thought the event would likely bring out additional voters for this election.  

“For the last few years, [Sanders] has been popular with young people and just having him here and creating an event and making a big deal around it, will bring people out.” 

Madison was one stop on the “Our Future is Now” tour organized by MoveOn, NextGen and the Working Families Party, which has taken Sanders to Eau Claire, La Crosse and Oshkosh as well as other battleground states in recent days. 

Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn, said it’s widely understood that Sanders resonates with young people, and that his bluntness and his understanding of the challenges to economic mobility are reasons he could bring out additional voters. 

“People graduate college or graduate high school and they expect that they should be able to get a job, they should be able to put a roof over their head, they should be able to pay their bills,” Epting said, “and yet today’s economic system is not working for them to do that. 

Plus, Epting added, Sanders is “just cool.” 


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Baylor Spears
Baylor Spears

Baylor Spears is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner. She’s previously written for the Minnesota Reformer and Washingtonian Magazine. A Tennessee-native, she graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University in June 2022.