Video by: Catherine Bauknight

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — leading a parade of Democratic presidential hopefuls to Pasadena for a Friday afternoon conference on immigration — came to town with his usual inexhaustible supply of fire and fury in captivating backers with promises of Medicare for all, free college tuition and a host of other progressive, people-driven policy ideas.

The only thing Sanders seemed to lack was an audience, or one the size that he’s grown accustomed to drawing since entering the presidential election arena in 2016.

“Bernie is very inspirational, but the size of the crowd was somewhat disappointing,” said Sharon Kyle, who along with her husband Dick Price publishes the online magazine LA Progressive. Roughly 2,000 people showed up for Sanders’ morning rally at the Pasadena Convention Center, half of what organizers had hoped for.

But, “Aside from that,” Kyle said, “it was a great rally. All of his rallies are great. There is very little on which I don’t agree with him.”

Getting Traction

Whether it’s due to being one of 23 candidates — including five other US Senators and former Vice President Joe Biden — or because people either agree or not with what he’s saying, Sanders has seen marked reductions in the size of the crowds that venture out to hear him speak.

On Saturday, the same day that the state Democratic Party Convention was being held in San Francisco, Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist, drew just more than 2,500 people at Guadalupe River Park in nearby San Jose, thousands less than expected. The previous week, fewer than 200 people attended a Sanders rally at a community college in New Hampshire. On May 25, he drew just 2,500 people in his home state of Vermont, where the campaign expected twice that number. Before Biden jumped into the race, Sanders was drawing large crowds in his early campaign stops.

“Bernie seems to be a candidate all of a sudden trying to figure out how to get traction again,” “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd said Sunday of the Vermont rally.

A Decisive Role

Later last Friday in Pasadena, Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris, Julian Castro, a former cabinet member with the Obama administration, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee participated in the first presidential forum focused on immigration at the Pasadena Hilton, a few blocks from the city Convention Center.

While not widely known, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, also a candidate for president, spoke at a private event on Thursday, May 30, at the Women’s City Club of Pasadena.

Biden, who did not attend the state Democratic Party Convention in San Francisco the following Saturday, and fellow candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, are also finalizing plans to stump in Pasadena.

Part of the reason candidates are making sure to traverse California on their respective campaign trails is because the state has moved its primary election date up from June to March 3, 2020, also known as Super Tuesday. The earlier date — after only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — will ensure that California voters and the state’s nearly 500 delegates play a decisive role in determining the eventual nominee, who will be chosen at the Democratic National Convention in July 2020 in Milwaukee.

Out of all the candidates, Sanders comes in second place in most polls behind only Biden, though the difference is by double digits.

Focus on Immigration

US Rep. Judy Chu, whose district includes most of Pasadena, delivered introductory remarks at the immigration forum at the Pasadena Hilton. The event, titled the Unity + Freedom Forum, was hosted by FIRM Action, Community Change Action and CHIRLA Action Fund.

All four candidates who participated — Harris, Sanders, Castro and Inslee — pledged to enact comprehensive immigration reform and revoke President Trump’s Muslim travel ban during their first 100 days in office, in addition to other progressive immigration policies.

Harris, who formerly served as California attorney general, said the fight for immigration reform will not be easy, but that it’s “a fight worth having, and I promise you we will win this fight.”

Castro, who formerly served as President Obama’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary, described specific policy proposals that he would enact if elected president. His twin brother Joaquin, a congressional representative from Texas, was also in attendance.

Castro called for a “21st century Marshall Plan” for Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

“We need a president who’s not going to look down on these countries but work as a peer in a mutually beneficial way to ensure that people can find safety and opportunity in their home country, instead of having to come here to the United States,” he said. “At the same time, the truth is we need a lot of the folks who are coming to the United States right now, because they add vitality to our country. It would be economic suicide not to have them, because we have a declining birth rate and an aging population. We need a young, vibrant workforce. We need immigrants.”

Inslee, who is running as a climate change candidate, said he would increase foreign aid to Central American countries, end family separations at the border, give asylum seekers hearings in a reasonable time period and increase the number of refugees — including those displaced by climate change — accepted into the United States to 110,000 per year.

After Pasadena, Sanders, Harris, Castro, Inslee, Gillibrand and nine other candidates traveled to San Francisco for the California Democratic Party Convention, which was the largest gathering of 2020 presidential contenders thus far until the first official Democratic debate will be hosted by MSNBC on June 26-27 in Miami.

Stay the Course

In his speech in Pasadena, Sanders said the underlying principles of our government will not be greed, kleptocracy, hatred, lies, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia or religious bigotry.  “We have news for Donald Trump: we are going to end those ugly practices when we are in the White House. The principles of our government will be economic justice, racial justice, social justice and environmental justice.”

Like nine other candidates since the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in US elections and obstruction of justice on the part of Trump, Sanders also changed his position on impeachment following Mueller’s press conference explaining his thinking in the Russia investigation. Sanders now believes impeachment inquiries must begin.

“As you all know,” Reuters News Service quotes Sanders saying at the party convention, “there is a debate among presidential candidates who have spoken to you here in this room and those who have chosen for whatever reason not to be in this room about the best way forward. We cannot go back to the old ways. We have to go forward with a new and progressive agenda.”

Said Kyle, “There are a lot of people in the race, but [Sanders] has enough money to stay the course and he will probably be in there until the end.” But, she said, “I think Warren and Biden will give Sanders a run for his money.”