Presidential Election

Bernie Sanders rallies thousands, weighs cost of California TV

While thousands of supporters cheered Bernie Sanders at a rally in Sacramento on Monday, the insurgent presidential candidate said he may not air TV advertisements in California, a vast state in which television advertising is typically crucial.

“That we have to look at,” the Vermont senator said in an interview in a locker room outside Bonney Field. “You know, we’re in reasonably good financial shape, but TV is so expensive here in California, you could just spend millions of dollars in a few days.”

Sanders said his campaign “may end up doing” TV or could put money into radio or field operations, less expensive and – in California – traditionally less effective measures.

“It’s such a huge state,” Sanders said. “We’re going to have to be very aggressive. We have a great team of staff. We have tens and tens of thousands of volunteers. We’re going to be knocking on doors, we’re going to be making phone calls.”

He has fallen so far behind Clinton in the Democratic nominating contest that her advantage is nearly insurmountable. But Sanders has pledged to continue through the final primaries in June, insisting that he can win while suggesting that even if he does not he will carry a more progressive message to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

But a crowd Sanders estimated at 15,000 gathered to greet him at Bonney Field, demonstrating their commitment to a candidate they said has given them reason to participate in politics.

“When we began this campaign a little over a year ago, we had no political organization, we had no money, and we had no name recognition, and we were taking on the most powerful political organization in this country,” Sanders told his audience.

“It turns out that a lot has changed in a year,” he said. “The corporate establishment is getting nervous. The political establishment is getting nervous. When they see 15,000 people coming out in Sacramento, they get very nervous. And they should be getting nervous, because real change is coming.”

Fans streamed into the venue hours before the event to bake under the afternoon sun and hear local bands. Vendors sold T-shirts and buttons bearing Sanders’ likeness.

Julia Pollex, 33, of Davis said Sanders is unlike most politicians. “He’s like a real human being,” she said, describing him as anti-establishment.

“I wasn’t really into politics until Bernie came along,” she said.

On Friday, Sanders complained in a letter to Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz that the party was not putting his supporters on critical rules and platform-drafting committees for the convention.

“As you know, there are already over 9 million voters who, during this nominating process, have indicated that they want to go beyond establishment politics and establishment economics – and want to transform our country with bold initiatives,” he wrote. “I will not allow them to be silenced at the Democratic National Convention.”

Sanders said he was “prepared to mobilize our delegates to force as many votes as necessary to amend the platform and rules on the floor of the convention.”

Following an upset victory over Clinton in Indiana last week, Sanders appears poised to compete in a string of primaries this month and next. He has nudged ahead of Clinton in West Virginia, which holds its primary on Tuesday.

But California, in which mail voting opened Monday, is the largest outstanding prize.

Recent polls put Clinton ahead of Sanders among likely voters here, but Sanders has steadily gained ground. In an April Field Poll, Sanders lagged just 6 percentage points behind.

“It does appear to me that Sanders is getting stronger over time,” poll director Mark DiCamillo said. “We’ll see where the momentum is as we approach June.”

Traveling in the heart of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta this week – Sanders will appear in Stockton on Tuesday – the candidate said he has not studied controversial proposals to increase pumping from the Delta or to build two tunnels to divert water under the Delta to the south.

“To be honest with you, I have not studied these issues,” he said.

Sanders, who has called for decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level, said Monday that he has not reviewed the wording of a California initiative to legalize marijuana. But he said that “in general I believe that we have to end prohibition regarding marijuana.”

In Sacramento on Monday, supporters ticked off other reasons they like him.

“He is for the middle class,” said Karen Reis of Clear Lake, who works with the disabled. “And I am losing ground every year.”

Reis, like many others lining the fence outside the venue Monday, described herself as “Bernie or bust,” meaning she won’t vote for Clinton. “If I have to write (Sanders) in, I will,” she said.

Nuar Hegrat said she doesn’t even want to imagine a presidential race without Sanders. But she likes the idea of Sanders “taking his power and his positions to the convention to be able to influence the platform.”

She also wants to see Sanders, who has been criticized for not being more involved with Democratic candidates and causes, use his large following to help progressive candidates running in down-ballot races.

“They haven’t forgotten the real issues facing real people,” she said.

As Hegrat spoke, the line behind her wound around the parking lot. A number of the Sanders faithful said they saw the senator in earlier states. Jeri Greenberg, a nurse from Fair Oaks, helped with the caucuses in Nevada.

She cited his support for expanding health care though a single-payer system, and maintaining and improving the ratios of nurses to their patients. “His values are nurses’ values,” Greenberg said.

Sanders’ speech followed the release on Monday of a Tax Policy Center report that said his proposals would increase federal budget deficits by more than $18 trillion over the next decade.

The report said the value of added benefits proposed by Sanders would exceed the cost of additional taxes for all but the top 5 percent of households.

But the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated Sanders’ proposed tax increases, mostly affecting the nation’s wealthiest people, would not offset the cost of programs ranging from universal health care to free public college tuition and expanded Social Security benefits.

Before the rally, Sanders scoffed at the tax study:

“We don’t accept that at all,” he said.

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders

Related stories from Sacramento Bee