U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders returned to North Carolina on Friday, days after his victory in the New Hampshire primary and as the latest front-runner in the Democratic presidential race.
Sanders spoke at a morning rally in Durham and is scheduled to appear in uptown Charlotte in the afternoon.
“I’m getting the very strong feeling that we’re going to win here in North Carolina,” he said in Durham. “The reason we’re going to win is that the American people realize … we cannot continue to have a president of the United States who is a pathological liar, who is running a corrupt administration … who thinks he is above the law. Who is a racist. A homophobe . . . and a religious bigot. And those are his good qualities.”
Sanders, who also won the popular vote in the Iowa caucuses, has emerged atop most national polls. Candidates are turning their attention to Nevada and South Carolina, which hold their nominating contests this month, as well as North Carolina and other Super Tuesday states that vote March 3.
Democrats debate next Wednesday in Las Vegas, three days ahead of the Nevada caucuses.
“Certainly he has the momentum coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire,” Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer said of Sanders. “The national polls have him ahead. But there’s still a lot of primaries to go. The Nevada debate will either show the rest of the field ganging up on Sanders or turning their attention to (Michael) Bloomberg and (Sen. Amy) Klobuchar to have their turn on the hot seat.”
Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, barnstormed North Carolina Thursday and has spent heavily on advertising and staff in the state. Klobuchar, of Minnesota, finished third in New Hampshire.
One candidate already has begun going after Sanders.
Billionaire businessman Tom Steyer is running a new digital ad in Nevada that criticizes Sanders’ proposal for “Medicare for All“ and questions its cost as well as its effect on private health care coverage.
President Donald Trump injected himself into the debate Friday.
“It is happening again to Crazy Bernie, just like last time, only far more obvious,” he tweeted. “They are taking the Democrat Nomination away from him, and there’s very little he can do. A Rigged System!”
In a statement, Trump Victory spokesperson Samantha Cotten called Sanders “an out-of-touch radical committed to hiking taxes on hardworking people.”
In Durham, he was introduced by actress Susan Sarandon, who said he’s “the only candidate for real systemic change.”
Sanders has continued to draw large crowds. But some Democrats, including U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Joe Biden supporter, say they doubt he could win North Carolina.
But analysts are watching to see if he can grow his base of ardent supporters.
“His base is extremely loyal,” Bitzer said. “The question is, can he expand beyond that base and is he willing to expand beyond that base? He’s very firm in his policy and ideological approach, but that’s not the entire Democratic Party.”