Raleigh, N.C. — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders brought his populist message to Raleigh on Friday, laying out a list of proposals to improve the U.S. and the quality of life for millions of people – proposals he derisively called "radical ideas" because they go against the status quo.
Sanders spoke for more than an hour to an overflow crowd at Memorial Auditorium at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, even spending some time addressing hundreds of people who couldn't get in on the plaza outside the auditorium.
"It's not a radical idea to suggest someone who works 40 to 50 hours a week in the country should not live in poverty," he told the cheering audience inside.
Other "radical ideas" included taxing Wall Street brokerages to raise enough money to make public universities tuition-free, fixing the lead-tainted water system in Flint, Mich., and other crumbling infrastructure across the country and creating a universal health care system nationwide.
"Imagine the American people having clean drinking water. What a radical idea that is," he said. "Helping out the middle class by making sure colleges are affordable for all of our people, that is a radical and crazy idea. But bailing out crooks on Wall Street who destroyed the economy, well, that's not such a radical idea. I think some people have their priorities backwards."
Sanders hit on his usual talking points of creating an economy that benefits the working- and middle-class, cracking down on trade agreements that he says cost the U.S. jobs and exorcising corporate money from political campaigns.
"We have a corrupt campaign finance system which is undermining democracy." he said, comparing wealthy donors who put millions behind political candidates to an oligarchy trying to control the U.S.
He criticized his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, for accepting $15 million in donations from people in the financial industry and millions more from pharmaceutical executives, noting the average size of his campaign donations is $27. He also noted that Clinton has backed many trade deals in recent years that have led to the closure of manufacturing plants in North Carolina and elsewhere.
"We need trade policy that is fair, not unfettered free trade," he said. "American workers should not be forced to compete against desperate people who make pennies an hour."
A recent WRAL News poll shows Sanders trailing Clinton, who campaigned in Durham on Thursday, by a 57-34 percent margin among likely Democratic voters.
In a one-on-one interview with WRAL News, Sanders, who has been in public office for decades, cited the recession, the war in Iraq and the push for more free trade when asked why he decided to run for president now.
"I just honestly believed it was too late for establishment politics and establishment economics, that we have to go a lot further and we have to stand up for working families today and take on the big money interest," he said.
Critics say his ideas are unrealistic and that Congress won't approve them. But he says, if he wins, it will show Washington that change is no longer optional.
"Ordinary people are powerful people if they ar prepared to use that power. We can transform what goes on this country because Congress will not be able to simply do the bidding of the wealthy and the powerful," he said.