Photos by Abbie Parr.
DENVER — With Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders coming off an energetic rally at the Colorado Convention Center and with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s supporters rallying just outside the door, the Colorado Democrats 83rd Annual Dinner Saturday became a battleground for the heart of Colorado Democrats. By the time the two candidates left the stage, Clinton had successfully highlighted Colorado issues while Sanders was unable to localize his platform.
The dinner was key in influencing Colorado Democrats to lean one way or the other on the two leading candidates for the 2016 democratic party presidential nomination.
Clinton, Sanders and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley were all invited to attend the dinner, held at the Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel, but only Clinton and Sanders confirmed their attendance as keynote speakers. According to one member of catering staff for the event, the Sheraton ballroom was able to seat 1,510 guests, and it was estimated that about 1,350 guests showed up to the dinner.
Colorado Democratic Party Chair Rick Palacio said it was the highest-ever attendance for a Colorado Democratic Annual Dinner.
Both candidates spoke on a wide range of issues, including the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia that had occurred just hours before. After thanking Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly for their work against gun violence, Clinton called Republicans out, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for wanting to block any nominations President Obama would put forth for Scalia’s replacement.
Sanders spoke along the same lines, arguing that the Supreme Court is meant to have nine members, not eight.
The two candidates seemed to agree on most issues for the rest of the night. Both Clinton and Sanders said Obama had not received enough praise for his accomplishments as president, that they would deal with wealth and income inequality if elected and that they would work to remove money from influencing politics. Both also agreed, almost word for word, that healthcare is “a right of all people, not a privilege,” a line repeated ad nauseum by both campaigns.
Where the speeches differed was in how they connected specifically with Colorado democrats.
Connecting to Colorado
Sanders made only two comments on Colorado in his 28-minute long keynote speech; one was a statement that “people are going to be very surprised by election results here in Colorado,” while the other referenced Colorado’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana.
Sanders more-or-less stuck to his script and didn’t stray far from his national platform.
Clinton began her speech by calling for the re-election of Sen. Michael Bennet and for more Democrats to be elected into local and state government. She argued that the Colorado FAMLI Act, which would have established a statewide family medical leave plan, would have passed if Colorado Republicans had not blocked the bill.
In a statement of support for Planned Parenthood, Clinton said “the planned parenthood shooter should have never had that gun in the first place,” connecting her national gun control platform with the recent shooting in Colorado Springs.
Clinton also said auto companies had taken advantage of the automotive bailout. She said Johnson Controls Inc., an auto parts corporation with offices in both Denver and Fort Collins, has “turned it’s back on America,” and argued that its use of bailout funds was a “perversion.”
Clinton vs Sanders
Throughout the speeches, neither candidate called the other out by name but did not hesitate to make indirect throws at one another.
Clinton said, repeating her closing remarks at the sixth democratic debate, that she “is not a single-issue candidate” and that Democrats need to choose someone who, “you count on to break down every barrier, not just some.”
“We need real solutions to the problems we face,” Clinton said. “I’m not making promises I can’t keep.”
Sanders, on the other hand, said, “I do not have a super PAC. I do not want a super PAC.” He stated that his campaign had received over $3.5 million in contributions during his nine-month run for the Democratic nomination, averaging at $27 apiece. Clinton has faced much scrutiny in an election cycle where accepting Wall Street campaign donations has been as poisonous as saying, “I am the establishment.”
In reference to beliefs that Clinton is inconsistent in her campaign platform, Sanders said, on the topic of a corrupt political financing system, “You can spin all you want, you can change your views all you want, but that is the reality of American society.”
Capturing the West
After Clinton won the Iowa Caucuses and Sanders took New Hampshire by a landslide, the two candidates are neck-and-neck going into the Nevada and Colorado caucuses.
In the most recent poll by TargetPoint conducted from Feb. 8-10, Sanders and Clinton are tied at 45 points each among likely Nevada Democratic caucus voters, with 9 undecided voters. The Nevada Democratic caucuses will take place Feb. 20, the same day as the South Carolina caucuses where Clinton holds an average +32.3 point lead over Sanders, according to RealClearPolitics.com.
If Sanders wants to have the best chance at getting the Democratic presidential nomination, he must close this gap by taking a step down from national politics and learning to play at the state level like his challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The candidate who takes Nevada will send a clear message to other western states as to who best represents western ideals and issues such as race, energy, immigration and education. The Colorado Democratic caucus will take place March 1, alongside 10 other U.S. states on Super Tuesday.
Collegian Assistant News Editor Erik Petrovich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @EAPetrovich.