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Sanders rally draws crowd, falls flat (subscriber content)

By Tabitha Mueller
Published: Last Updated on
Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigns in Reno for his 2020 presidential bid. Photo: Ty O’Neil

By Tabitha Mueller | Audio by Don Dike Anukam | Images by Ty O’Neil.

Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) returned to Reno for a town hall meeting at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center Monday evening. The standing-room-only crowd of about 900 people featured both staunch Bernie supporters and undecided voters looking to gain some perspective on the candidate and his policies. 

This was Sanders’ third visit to Reno since launching his 2020 presidential campaign, having also hosted rallies in May and September 2019. 

Undecided voter Lillian Morton arrived at the meeting to hear Sanders’ message in-person.

Morton had a list of priority issues and said as far as Nevada is concerned, “this week they came out with we are number 50 in adolescent mental health. I think we need to address [homelessness because] there’s less housing available for the increasing population. 

“That’s not only our city, that’s a national problem,” she added. “I think our education system is lacking.” 

Her nephew Jakob Morton will be voting for the first time in the 2020 election, and he too is undecided. He said he came to the event because “I just want to see what he says because from what I hear about him, he has a lot of social ideas, and I agree with a lot of social ideas.”

Rocky reception for some media

campaign staff zip tying the stage
Campaign staff zip-tying
the stage. Photo: Ty O’Neil

The event came across as haphazard. Volunteers directing traffic were not entirely sure where to send people, and before the introductory speakers arrived, staff members were still zip-tying the stage together.

A hired security guard  did not allow freelance photojournalist Michelle Dumont into the town hall meeting because she was not with an official media organization.

Dumont has been covering various campaigns since 2008.

“I could not enter with my ‘Professional’ camera equipment,” she said. “Yes, I brought my usual big lens with me. So what? Never, in the past eleven years have I ever heard of such nonsense. 

“If anything, candidates should welcome all the free coverage they can get. Evidently, Bernie Sanders and his Nevada Democratic handlers aren’t interested in free coverage. Sorry, Bernie, you lost any small amount of support from this voter.”

Bernie Sanders in Reno, December 9, 2019. Audio by Don Dike Anukam.

Stump speech slumps 

Once the event began, and Sanders arrived on stage, the assembled crowd stood and cheered, but in an almost routine way, with less enthusiasm than they had at past rallies for the candidate, such as downtown’s rally earlier this year.

When Sanders’ delivered statements about “the need to cancel all student debt,” “end criminalization of undocumented people,” as well as the line, “I have the feeling the people of Nevada are ready for the political revolution,” attendees’ responses were also relatively lackluster. 

Camera crews played on their phones, and audience members sitting on stage behind the candidate seemed to zone out.  

Even though his speech did not deviate far from his usual stump speeches, Sanders did discuss Nevada’s Ruby Mountains.

“We must leave fossil fuels in the ground,” he exclaimed. 

Sanders also emphasized the need to address the past treatment of Native Americans and spoke to Morton’s concerns about homelessness, education, and healthcare, highlighting his strategy to pay for his “Medicare for All” plan. 

Although campaign staff promoted the event as a town hall meeting and had mics set up facing the audience, when this reporter asked staff whether questions were pre-screened or how questioners were selected, she received no response.

Bernie Sanders rally
Rally attendees seated on stage behind Sanders. Photo: Ty O’Neil

A town hall-style discussion with the candidate never took place.

After his stump speech, the event quickly closed down  There was no chance for attendees, such as Lillian and Jakob, to speak or share their concerns with the presidential hopeful.

From other media outlets’ reporting, Sanders’ campaign gatherings in Elko and Carson City were more energetic and vibrant. The candidate is now in Las Vegas.

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