Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders made a pair of stops in Pittsburgh on Sunday, praising progressive candidates at both the American Federation of Teachers National convention and an appearance with Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, who is running for lieutenant governor.
“All over this country, people are standing up and fighting back against Donald Trump and for a progressive agenda,” Sanders told a packed room of educators at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center Downtown.
Sanders, who ran for president in 2016 with support from the Democratic Socialists of America, cited the campaigns of state representative candidates Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato as evidence of the movement’s spread. Both Democratic women ran with support from the DSA, winning against two longtime incumbents.
Hillary Clinton, Sanders' Democratic opponent in the 2016 race, received an early endorsement from the AFT, and spoke at the convention on Friday. A potential Democratic rival for Sanders in 2020, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, appeared at the convention Saturday.
During his speech, Sanders talked about the importance of free and accessible public education.
"Our job now is to change national priorities, to make sure that every American knows that there is nothing more important than a quality, public education for every child in this country," said Sanders. "In the midst of these difficult times, I am not pessimistic. Our job now as never before, is to stand up, is to fight back, and to create the nation we know we can become."
Democratic U.S. Representative Conor Lamb also spoke at the convention, and thanked the teachers for their support during his run for the state’s 18th Congressional district. He’ll be running for this November in the newly formed 17th congressional district, after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the old district lines were unconstitutionally gerrymandered. The new district pits him against Republican Keith Rothfus, who represents the old 12th District.
A few hours later across town at Carnegie Mellon University, Sanders campaigned before a smaller, but more spirited crowd on behalf of Fetterman. Innamorato and Lee warmed up the crowd.
“This is an intentional wave” says @SummerForPA re: progressive new candidates running for office in 2018.
— Lucy Perkins (@lucyeperk) July 15, 2018
Gisele Fetterman, the lieutenant gubernatorial candidate’s wife and a delegate for Sanders in 2016, spoke about her experience as an undocumented immigrant. She said she was brought here by her mother as a child because “it was a safe place to raise a family” and promised that if she becomes Second Lady of Pennsylvania, she’d work to make the state more accepting of immigrant families.
Though the event was for Fetterman's lieutenant governor campaign, Fetterman himself only spoke for a few minutes before introducing Sanders. Fetterman, who was arguably Sanders' highest-profile supporter in western Pennsylvania during the 2016 Democratic primary, stressed that “everything is on the line for Democrats” this November. He warned that the GOP’s gubneratorial candidate, businessman Scott Wagner, would reverse the progressive agenda.
For his part, Sanders touched briefly on Fetterman's campaign, exhorting the crowd to elect him along with his running mate, Gov. Tom Wolf, in November. Referring both to Fetterman and to Lee and Innamorato, Sanders said, "I'm here today because at this unprecedented moment in American history, we need a political revolution and these guys are what the political revolution is about."
Mostly, however, Sanders spoke about issues he's known for, from free tuition to public colleges and universities, to universal healthcare and raising the minimum wage. Sanders noted that while some of these issues -- like universal healthcare -- were "fringe issues" just a few years ago, they're now gaining popularity. Campaigns like those of Innamorato and Lee prove that progressive agendas can get candidates elected, he said.
— Lucy Perkins (@lucyeperk) July 15, 2018
In response to the rally, the Republican Party of Pennsylvania released a statement criticizing the event. “Campaigning with Bernie Sanders is the latest indication that the Wolf-Fetterman ticket is so far to the left that they have lost sight of the moderate Pennsylvanians who are looking for a hand up, not a hand out," said PA GOP communications Director Jason Grossman in the statement.
*This is a developing story and additional information may be added throughout the day. Katie Blackley contributed to this report.