Sanders brings campaign against 1 percent, and Clinton, to Kansas City

The crowd cheer as Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks at the Kansas City Convention Center during a campaign event in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

? A largely young and fully adoring crowd on Wednesday heard Bernie Sanders’ pitch in Kansas City for an economy no longer “rigged” for the rich and a political system less moved by money.

The midday speech by the Democratic presidential candidate to several thousand at Bartle Hall focused on his usual themes of economic inequality.

“Wall Street is getting nervous,” Sanders said, his outer-borough New York drawl distinct amid Midwestern supporters. “We have taken on the political establishment. We have taken on the media establishment. We are gaining momentum every single day.”

The Vermont senator arrived shortly after losing last week’s Nevada caucuses, needing to turn things around quickly to pose a serious threat to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Yet he brimmed with electoral optimism.

“If we stand together, we can make American history,” he said, calling on “my brothers and sisters” to get involved in politics.

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. smiles while speaking at the Kansas City Convention Center during a campaign event in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

His speech hit many of the same notes it has throughout the campaign season, and his career. He called for major reforms curtailing Wall Street influence on the economy, for smaller banks working under tighter investment rules, for a higher minimum wage.

And he championed more dramatic policies on taxes, health insurance, education spending than the Democratic Party has entertained for at least a generation.

He repeated his call for tuition-free public higher education, for a more expansive health care program than Obamacare — one that would transform health care to a right for Americans.

His call for higher taxes on the rich to support a Great Society-style government spending on a range of programs resonated with the raucous crowd. People began lining up downtown before dawn and took hours to file in through security checks. Many more were still outside when Sanders took the stage at 1:15 p.m.

The age of the crowd was clear when Sanders talked about the burden of college debt, which drew a more thunderous applause than when he said people on Social Security were struggling to get by on “$11,000 or $12,000 a year.”

Poverty and economic inequality drew the main focus of his speech.

“This candidate for president will talk about poverty, will stand together with the most oppressed people in this country,” Sanders said. “Why is it that millions and millions are working 40 and 50 hours a week and still don’t earn enough money to take care of their families?”

The next vote comes in South Carolina’s primary on Saturday. Clinton appears to hold a commanding lead there. RealClear Politics estimates she leads Sanders by 24 percentage points. That reflects the political headwinds Sanders faces nationally in a race where the pace of voting is about to pick up dramatically.

Sanders’ Wednesday speech marked the first time the presidential contest steamed through Kansas City since the start of the primary season. The stop appears almost an aberration. After South Carolina, the race turns to the Super Tuesday on March 1 and a potentially deciding turn in the race. Texas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts and a handful of other states hold primaries that day.

Only after that come the Kansas caucuses on March 5, a Saturday. Another handful of states will vote shortly after that.

Then on March 15, Missouri, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina and Ohio will hold their primaries.

All of that voting, potentially enough to settle the nomination fights in both parties — Donald Trump scored a deciding win Tuesday night in the Nevada caucuses — comes within the next three weeks.

That means increasing demands on candidates’ time. Consequently, Sanders might not have another chance to return to a market that covers Kansas and Missouri before voters in those states weigh in on the race.

While their fight looks tame compared to the Republican field, where a once-large field invited infighting and front-runner Trump appears to revel in confrontation, the clash between Clinton and Sanders has heated in recent weeks.

Clinton and her surrogates have stepped up attacks on ways they contend Sanders has been reluctant to universally back gun control — a notion reviled among Republicans but largely popular among the left-leaning Democrats who dominate the party’s primaries.

On a CNN town hall broadcast Tuesday night, Sanders dug at Clinton for her connections to Wall Street.

“I don’t get speaker’s fees from Goldman Sachs,” he said.

And he’s recently prodded her to release the transcripts of her well-paid speeches to investment firms. Clinton has said she would do so when all other presidential candidates do the same. Sanders issued a news release last week goading her on that position.

“Sen. Sanders accepts Clinton’s challenge. He will release all of the transcripts of all of his Wall Street speeches,” the release said. “That’s easy. The fact is, there weren’t any. Bernie gave no speeches to Wall Street firms.”

Likewise, as the primaries moved on from overwhelmingly white states to territory with a more diverse electorate, the campaigns positioned themselves as attractive to minority voters. This week, Sanders picked up the endorsement of filmmaker Spike Lee.

Still, polls show Clinton with a much stronger base of support among minorities, particularly African-Americans who felt a political kinship to former President Bill Clinton.

On Tuesday, Sanders told the Kansas City Star that he backed the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, even if that means the terror suspects held there might end up in Kansas. Fort Leavenworth is home to a military prison.

“Well, if we shut down Guantanamo, prisoners are going to be moved someplace,” Sanders said in a phone interview Tuesday. “That’s the way it is. We have jails all over this country. And clearly, their prisoners will be put in maximum security prisons, and we will make sure those prisoners are not going to escape or anything like that.”