Students ‘feel the Bern’ two days before the Kansas caucus

By Zia Kelly

For the second time in two weeks, students rallied behind Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders by spending hours in line and packed into cramped venues to see his speeches.

Sanders gave his second speech in the area tonight at the Douglas County fairgrounds. 4,200 people from Lawrence and neighboring towns came to watch as Sanders promoted his campaign two days before Super Saturday, when Kansas will be holding its caucuses.

Many LHS students in attendance also saw Sanders speak at Bartle Hall in Kansas City last Wednesday. Junior Noah Kuzca, a member of the Young Democrats Club, was one of those students.

“It [the speech] was very strong and he touched on all the topics that matter and should decide this election,” he said.

Sanders addressed major topics in his campaign: campaign finance reform, regulating Wall Street, student debt and free college tuition and healthcare, among other things.

Junior Jazmyne McNair, who volunteered at the event, and said she was most excited to see Sanders address the management of student debt.

Kuzca, on the other hand, said he most looked forward to Sanders addressing the wealth gap.

“[I looked forward to hearing] his [Sanders] demotion of the top 1 percent,” he said. “No one should be that ahead on the majority of people. America is a place of opportunity, but I don’t believe it can be achieved with such a margin between income levels.”

Substitute teacher and KU graduate student Travis Robinett volunteers with the Sanders campaign, and has canvassed worked at events in the midwest.

“I think it’s really important,” he said. “Since Kansas is a Super Saturday state and he, frankly, right now after Super Tuesday, needs to start winning states. And Kansas is one that he needs to win, absolutely.”

Super Tuesday did not look promising for Sanders. Sander’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, pulled far ahead by winning a total 1,052 delegates whereas Sanders has 427.

With 35 states to still hold primary elections, Robinett said Lawrence was a prime location for Sanders to host a rally because people from all of over the state would be able to come to see the speech.

Robinett also said that is if Sanders wants to win, he will have to take Douglas county by a large margin. This wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility because of the left-of-center politics typical of the area.

“Knowing the demographic in Lawrence, where there are a lot of college kids, he [Sanders] can still do pretty well,” McNair said.

Although Douglas County is among the most liberal places in the state, as noted by Sanders several times in his speech, there may be challenges to getting young voters who would support the Vermont senator to the caucus.

Despite efforts, KU student activists were unsuccessful earlier this week in getting the mens basketball game moved from the same time as the caucus. Robinett also noted that Kansas State students may be hindered from participating because of an early St. Patrick’s Day celebration that will also be on Saturday.

Events aside, Sanders may struggle to gain traction because of the historically low voter turnout in the primary election.

In 2012, voter turnout for the Kansas primary election was six percent. This election season, other states’ Democratic parties have experienced low voter turnout while GOP turnout has been unusually high.

McNair will not be 18 by the day of the general election, and said that people who are able to participate in the caucus should not take the opportunity for granted.

“There are so many students right now, especially in Young Democrats Club and other activist clubs in Lawrence, who would love to be in your position,” McNair said. “It’s just so incredibly important that you take advantage of that.

The Kansas caucuses will be held Saturday. The Democratic caucus will be at Central Middle School at 3 p.m. with registration beginning at 1 p.m., and the Republican caucus will be at Southwest Middle School at 2 p.m. with registration starting at 10 a.m.

At the Democratic caucus, people who will be 18 by the general election will be allowed to participate if they are 17 now. There will also be same-day, on-site voter registration.

At the Republican caucus, you must be 18 to participate and have been a registered voter by Feb. 4 of this year.
“Go to the caucus,” said Robinett. “Even if you don’t know who your candidate is going to be, going and participating in democracy is the most important thing.”