Few places in California would appear more receptive to a message about income inequality than Stockton, the Central Valley city ravaged by the home-foreclosure crisis and bankruptcy, where the unemployment rate remains near 9 percent.
So thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters roared when the insurgent presidential candidate said Tuesday that what his “political revolution is about is creating a government which represents all of us, not just the 1 percent.”
Yet for Sanders to make true inroads in the Valley – where he campaigned for two days this week – will require an extraordinary lift.
Not only does the Vermont senator lag behind Hillary Clinton in California, his deficit in the Central Valley and Sierra regions of the state is even more acute. Far from California’s more liberal, densely populated coast, California’s inland Democrats can traditionally be counted on to express their party’s more conservative strains.
In 2008, when Clinton beat Barack Obama by about 8 percentage points in California’s primary, she drubbed Obama by a far wider margin – more than 20 percentage points – in San Joaquin County. Clinton, who is all but certain to become the party’s nominee this year, leads Sanders by 15 percentage points in the Valley and Sierra regions of the state, according to an April Field Poll.
One positive sign for Sanders is that an unusually large proportion of likely Democratic voters in the Valley and Sierra regions – 25 percent – remain undecided, according to the poll.
Sanders, who held a larger rally in Sacramento on Monday before traveling to Stockton, said he was campaigning in the Valley because there are “a lot of people here.” Michael Tubbs, a Stockton councilman who introduced Sanders, said Stockton is “ground zero for the many issues the senator has raised during his campaign.”
On Tuesday, Sanders spoke at an amphitheater near the spot where the city’s Christmas tree went up in flames in December.
“When you have this grotesque level of income and wealth inequality, when you have a situation where, over the last 25 years, trillions of dollars have left the hands of working families and have gone into the top one-tenth of 1 percent, don’t tell me we don’t have the resources to rebuild Stockton, California,” Sanders said.
Near the back of the crowd, Liz Ustick, 60, surveyed the sea of Sanders supporters and said, “We’re a bankrupt city. A lot of people are frustrated and angry.”
Ustick and her husband, Tim, are conservatives who do not support Sanders. But they view their choices in the election as limited.
“What we’re down to is we’ve got a liar, we’ve got a crazy man and we’ve got a guy who is a socialist,” Tim Ustick said, referring to Clinton, Donald Trump and Sanders, respectively. “Flip a coin.”
He shook his head at the cost of social programs Sanders advocates, believing the expense could ruin the federal government.
“I have thought about voting for this guy,” he said, “just because it’s the fastest way to the end.”