Bernie Sanders unapologetically warned on Monday that taxes would rise if he is elected President, an admission that could please his liberal base but trigger criticism from Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Speaking at an intimate Democratic town hall in Des Moines broadcast by CNN, Sanders was asked how he would pay for his single-payer, Medicare-for-all proposal.
“We will raise taxes. Yes we will,” Sanders said.
Sanders argued, however, that the taxes are worth it, given what American families will save in premiums. And, living up to his image as a self-declared Democratic socialist, he warned corporations and the richest Americans that they would pay more.
“Yes, you are going to start paying for your fair share of taxes,” Sanders said. “I demand that Wall Street start paying its fair share of taxes.”
The Vermont senator kicked off the town hall by saying that his populist message of economic and political change “has resonated much faster, much further than I thought it would.”
“We are touching a nerve with the American people who understand that establishment politics is just not good enough,” he said.
The Democratic presidential candidates are gathered at the forum to make a final appeal to voters before they attend the first-in-the-nation caucuses on February 1. The forum will showcase the contrast emerging between Clinton, the national front-runner and President Barack Obama’s first secretary of state, and Sanders, who is mounting a stronger than expected challenge. Long shot candidate Martin O’Malley will also be on stage Monday.
Clinton bills herself as the only candidate qualified to lock in progressive reforms ushered in by Obama and ready to be commander-in-chief in a dangerous world. Sanders, meanwhile, implicitly suggests that Obama did not go far enough and proposes sweeping new government initiatives on state-run health care, regulating Wall Street and addressing income inequality.
The candidates will appear one after the other for half an hour each at the town hall meeting at Drake University, which is being broadcast worldwide by CNN, statewide by local television affiliates and live-streamed online and on CNNgo.
Latest polling shows Clinton and Sanders locked in a tight contest in Iowa. In the most recent CNN Poll of Polls, Sanders edges Clinton 46% to 44% in Iowa, with O’Malley at 4%.
And in a new CNN/ORC national poll published on Monday, Clinton led Sanders 52% to 38% with former Maryland Gov. O’Malley way back on 2%. Though the survey showed a significant cushion for Clinton, her advantage was smaller than at any time since September. The poll showed women, non-whites, self-identified Democrats, and those over age 50 breaking sharply for Clinton. Men, white voters, independents who lean Democratic and younger voters are more likely to support Sanders.
The Iowa contest is particularly important to Clinton, who lost the state in 2008, setting in motion Obama’s path to the White House. A victory for Sanders could reshape the entire Democratic race while a Clinton win could quell jitters in her camp and help put her on the path to the nomination.
Earlier Monday, Jeff Weaver, who manages the Sanders campaign, said on CNN’s “New Day” that the enthusiasm and big crowds his candidate is whipping up in Iowa recalled the late surge that propelled Obama to victory over Clinton in 2008.
“What we are seeing in Iowa in terms of the momentum in the race … people who were here back then … say there (are) a lot of similarities,” Weaver told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, who will moderate the town hall.
Weaver said that Monday night’s event would showcase Sanders’ retail politics skills and flair for interacting directly with voters who are “ultimately the decision makers.”
“We are going to have voter’s questions as opposed to pundits questions … he really connects with people in a very personal way.”
But Brian Fallon, spokesman for the Clinton campaign, made the case on Monday that his boss would make an electability argument, speaking to reservations Democrats may have about Sanders’ capacity to win the election and perform effectively as president.
“Hillary Clinton is best positioned to protect the gains we have made under President Obama,” Fallon told CNN’s “New Day.”
He went on: “I think voters are going to contemplate who is the fighter with the tenacity to get results on the issues that keep voters up at night, who can do all aspects of the job, keeping them safe from terrorism but also ensuring the prosperity is shared economically up and down the income ladder.”