With less than three weeks until midterm elections, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer is teaming up with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to garner support.
University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats hosted a rally Friday evening in support of Whitmer in Rackham Auditorium. Over 1,100 students, faculty members and Michigan residents filled the main auditorium and an overflow room on the fourth floor.
In addition to Sanders and Whitmer, the event featured U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and Garlin Gilchrist, Whitmer’s running mate for lieutenant governor, and various candidates for state and local office.
Public Policy senior Kellie Lounds, chair for the College Democrats, spoke on Whitmer’s strengths in regard to mobilizing young people, noting the impact an endorsement from Sanders has made on her platform.
“College students here love her because they know she’s going to fight for them, but there are also more moderate people that love her because they know she’s going to lead a strong government that’s transparent, effective and useful,” Lounds said.
In light of historically low turnout rates among University students in recent elections, Lounds said building momentum is more important now. According to the Ford School of Public Policy, about 14 percent of University students participated in the 2014 midterms. Initiatives like the Big 10 Voting Challenge and Turn Up Turnout have aimed to mitigate voter turnout gaps in hopes that more students will vote in the upcoming election.
“I was a little worried after the Kavanaugh hearings that enthusiasm was going to die out,” Lounds said. “So I’m hoping this (event) will hype people up, get everybody ready and make these last 18 days of (Get Out the Vote) and the last 18 days before the election count.”
The Whitmer rally began with brief remarks from state Rep. Yousef Rabhi and state Sen. Rebekah Warren, as well as candidates for the Board of Regents Jordan Acker and Paul Brown. Acker stressed the importance of electing progressive Democrats like Brown and himself to the board.
“We have never had a regent at this University that has had student debt before; we have never had a regent that graduated from college this century on the board,” Acker said. “We can do so much better.”
Dana Nessel and Jocelyn Benson, Democratic nominees for attorney general and secretary of state respectively, each received standing ovations during their speeches Friday night.
“The Republicans are scared of me … they’re labeling me ‘Dangerous Dana,’” Nessel said. “I am going to be dangerous to the Trump administration. I will be dangerous to anybody who infringes upon the rights and the civil liberties of the people who live here in the state of Michigan.”
The event attracted Michigan Democrats from across the state, but they were also met with protest from the University’s chapter of College Republicans who stood close to the line of hopeful attendees, along with members from Americans for Prosperity, a conservative organization known for its ads attacking Whitmer.
LSA junior Austin McIntosh, communications chair for the College Republicans, said the group gathered in support for free speech, regardless of ideology or political party.
“In my opinion, what we’re trying to do is let people know that there are other opinions out there, whether it be from the right or the left,” McIntosh said. “All we’re trying to do on campus is promote freedom of speech.”
Dingell was next to take the stage, where she spoke on immigration reform and equal rights for women.
“We cannot let (Republicans) win, and democracy is under attack,” Dingell said. “We need everybody across the state to roll up their sleeves, to volunteer … let’s take America back to where it’s supposed to be.”
After recently receiving an endorsement from former President Barack Obama earlier this month, support for Whitmer has grown. According to the most recent polling data, Whitmer is ahead of her Republican opponent, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, by 9.2 points. Whitmer has polled particularly well among young voters, devoting time throughout her campaign to speak with students on the University’s campus.
LSA freshman Annabel Kelly came to the rally to see Sanders and learn more about the Democratic candidates who she plans to vote for in November.
“I just hope that (the event) inspires students to vote because I think it’s an extremely crucial election given the current political climate, especially for Democrats and for more left-leaning people,” Kelly said.
On Friday, Whitmer’s message was straight-forward — there is much work to be done between now and election day in order to ensure Michigan elects Democrats to office.
“In a political environment where it is easy to feel demoralized, easy to feel like it doesn’t matter, easy to feel angry about what we see every day as breaking news,” Whitmer said. “We know we have an opportunity in 18 days to show the world what kind of leadership we think we deserve.”
Whitmer then called on the audience to stand up for issues they cared about — reproductive rights, LGBT rights, clean drinking water, college affordability and workers’ rights. Whitmer emphasized every single person has a reason to vote and show up at the polls.
“This year, the day after the election, we’re going to wake up tired … but we are all going to wake up happy with the result,” Whitmer said.
Sanders, winner of the Michigan Democratic primary during the 2016 presidential election, received a warm welcome from the audience. Sanders originally endorsed El-Sayed in the Michigan gubernatorial primary, but announced his endorsement of Whitmer earlier this month.
Sanders addressed the crowd with a positive attitude, announcing the time to dwell on the 2016 election is over and students need to focus on enacting change for the future of government.
“No more complaining, no more depression, no more despair … Now is the time to stand up and fight back,” Sanders said.
Sanders explained the impact of his 2016 platform on today’s politics, particularly the perception of his beliefs evolving from radical to reasonable.
“(Our) victories, here in Michigan and elsewhere, told the entire world that the American people were not satisfied with status quo politics,” Sanders said. “And many of the ideas that I talked about when we were here in Michigan … that were thought to be extreme and radical … are now supported by the vast majority of the American people.”
Sanders closed by telling audience members the true missions behind Whitmer’s campaign — forming a government that is representative of all Americans and not just a select few. If voters bring out as many people as possible, Sanders said, this election will prove successful for Democrats.
“I believe that this upcoming midterm election is the most important midterm election in the modern history of our country … This election is of enormous importance,” Sanders said.