Bernie Sanders brings campaign championing the poor to Kansas City

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at KC's Bartle Hall

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders made a stop to speak to supporters gathered in Bartle Hall on Wednesday.
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Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders made a stop to speak to supporters gathered in Bartle Hall on Wednesday.

A largely young crowd heard Bernie Sanders’ pitch in Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday for an economy no longer “rigged” for the rich and a political system less moved by money.

The midday speech by the Democratic presidential candidate to several thousand at Bartle Hall focused on his usual themes of economic inequality.

“Wall Street is getting nervous,” Sanders said, his New York drawl distinct amid Midwestern supporters. “We have taken on the political establishment. We have taken on the media establishment. We are gaining momentum every single day.”

The Vermont senator lost last week’s Nevada caucuses and needs to turn things around quickly to pose a serious threat to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Yet he brimmed with electoral optimism.

“If we stand together, we can make American history,” he said, calling on “my brothers and sisters” to get involved in politics as Kansas and Missouri votes come up next month. The Kansas caucuses are March 5.

His speech hit many of the same notes it has throughout the campaign season and his career. He called for major reforms curtailing Wall Street influence on the economy, for smaller banks working under tighter investment rules and for a higher minimum wage.

And he championed policies on taxes, health insurance and education spending that are more dramatic than the Democratic Party has entertained for at least a generation.

Poverty and economic inequality were the main focus of his speech. “Why is it that millions and millions are working 40 and 50 hours a week and still don’t earn enough money to take care of their families?” he asked.

Midway through the 48-minute speech, he took some jabs at Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s lower taxes, smaller government model and its welfare reforms.

“In Kansas, you’ve got a governor who likes to beat up on the poor,” Sanders said. “It’s always an easy target to beat up on the poor, to talk about welfare abuse among the poor.”

That prompted the governor’s office to issue a statement: “It’s hardly surprising a socialist from Vermont disagrees with the governor’s welfare-to-work reforms. In Kansas, we believe higher incomes and more employment for those leaving food stamps is a good thing.”

Sanders’ call for higher taxes on the rich to support Great Society-style government spending on a range of programs resonated with the raucous crowd. People began lining up downtown before dawn and took hours to file in through security checks. Many more were still outside when Sanders took the stage at 1:15 p.m.

“Income inequality, women’s rights, I want to get rid of for-profit prisons. I just want to see a politician start caring about the little guy,” said Ann Jackson of Independence, who was part of a crowd that an organizer estimated at 7,500.