RAYMOND, N.H. — He fulminated against “a corporate elite that has unbelievable wealth, and power, and resources.” He gave a paean to Medicare for all. And he bemoaned the “absurdity and the dysfunctionality of Congress” that thwarts progress on gun control.
But as Senator Bernie Sanders kicked off a new chapter of his presidential campaign in New Hampshire Sunday, his pitch was as much about plausibility — that his plans and his candidacy were likely to succeed — as passion.
“I don’t think there has been a credible poll done in the last year which has not had us ahead of Trump,” he said in a high school auditorium packed with nearly 400 people.
“It goes without saying that we have got to defeat Donald Trump,” he said 45 minutes later, noting a recent national poll found he would beat the president 53 percent to 39 percent in a hypothetical matchup.
On the first stop of a multi-day swing through New Hampshire and Maine, Sanders spent a half-hour focused on health care. He spoke at length about what he framed as the benefits of his Medicare-for-all plan, the immorality of the current system, then took questions and asked the audience some of his own.
A teacher told Sanders she pays about $12,000 per year for health insurance.
“A pretty good percentage of your total income, yes?” he asked.
She said yes.
“That’s what I’m talking about! That’s what I’m talking about!” he said, voice raised. “You don’t hear that discussion on TV too often. ‘How much Bernie’s idea is really expensive,’ ” he said, appearing to make fun of cable news chatter.
“You’re paying $12,000. That is pretty damn expensive,” Sanders said, promising that she and her employer would pay less under his plan.
Sanders also railed against a system that drives too many people suffering from terrible illnesses into bankruptcy because of health care costs.
“That is not what a democratic, civilized society is about and we are going to end that barbarity,” the 77-year-old Vermonter said to raucous applause.
The familiar pitch was music to the ears of the many Sanders supporters in the audience, including Michael Mercier of Kittery, Maine, who said his two top issues are health care and climate change.
Walking out of the event, Mercier, a veteran who has worked overseas, said Sanders made a lot of good points about the American health care system.
“You see the health care delivery elsewhere and you wonder: Why do we put up with what we put up with?” said Mercier.
Sanders’s 19 rivals for the Democratic nomination were on the minds of other supporters in the audience.
Melissa Brantley, a 42-year-old Manchester, N.H., resident who also backed Sanders in 2016, sees him as the only progressive running for president.
She ticked through several candidates, scoffing at the idea that former vice president Joe Biden or Senator Kamala Harris were anything close to progressive. And Elizabeth Warren’s 2016 endorsement of Hillary Clinton, well she hasn’t forgotten about that.
“If Elizabeth Warren were a progressive, she would have backed the progressive in 2016, but instead she backed Hillary Clinton,” Brantley said with disdain.
She said Sanders is “the only progressive who sticks to what he says. He’s the only one who has been saying the same thing for 40 years —”
Her father chimed in: “Forever!”
Other supporters expressed significant doubts about Biden’s abilities even more than his liberal cred.
“Look, he was good with Obama, but he’s not coherent anymore,” said Mollene, a senior citizen, Concord, N.H., resident, and Sanders supporter who declined to give her last name.
“No. No,” she said emphatically of Biden. “Not presidential material.”
Liz Pearson, a 55-year-old kindergarten teacher from Concord, N.H., praised Sanders, “the respect he has for people,” and the policies that back it up, from Medicare For All to his plan to invest in K-12 education.
“I’m a teacher, and there is no respect or pay for that career,” she said. “He understands that education is more than testing.”
Still, plenty of people watching Sanders’s spiel were trying to figure out who they would choose in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, five months away.
Gary Downs, 73, was waiting with his daughter to enter the auditorium, as the sounds of a band practicing drifted through an open door.
The Kingston, N.H., resident, who considers himself liberal, said he is looking for the candidate “who is going to help people who need help . . . we’re going to be judged by how we help the lesser of us.”
A few minutes later, he walked into the auditorium and the afternoon program began.
Introducing Sanders was Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. He spoke about Sanders’s history and the morality of the issues the mayor-turned-congressman-turned-senator has championed during his career.
Then Cohen underscored what the polls say and began a chant: “Bernie beats Trump!”
Joshua Miller can be reached at email@example.com.