It was as if the 2016 campaign never stopped. The loyal crowds were there. The anti-establishment rhetoric too, as Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont railed against the billionaire class, and demanded health care for all and free college tuition.
At the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Dorchester on Friday afternoon, Sanders spoke for 45 minutes before answering questions for an overflow crowd. But the tenor and tone of Sanders’ remarks were reminiscent of his failed presidential campaign that started what his supporters call a “political revolution.”
So does the independent and self-described democratic socialist plan to run again in 2020? When asked, Sanders declined to say.
“Too often the media gets involved in, what I call, political gossip,” he said. “The issue of today, in my view, is to try to address some of the concerns that I raised about a collapsing middle class, massive levels of income inequality, being the only major country not to guarantee health care. That’s what we focus on.”
But Sanders did talk about the election he — and Democrats — lost last year, as well as the contest that Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts will face in 2018.
Sanders and Warren, two of the nation’s leading progressive politicians, have worked together in the Senate, especially since Donald Trump won the White House in November. But she didn’t endorse Sanders during the 2016 presidential campaign, disappointing his supporters in the process.
Sanders didn’t say if he too was miffed by that decision and instead touted Warren as someone Massachusetts voters “should be very proud of.”
“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure she’s reelected to the United States Senate,” he said. The two will appear later at a sold-out rally at Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Crossing after Sanders attends another event at MIT.
The senator’s thoughts about the state of the Democratic Party were less kind. Sanders, who has represented Vermont in Congress since 1991, caucuses with the Democrats and campaigned in the Democratic presidential primary against Hillary Clinton, who won the nomination.
“Trump did not win the presidency. The Democratic Party lost the presidency,” Sanders told the Globe’s James Pindell, who moderated the discussion. “I believe there has to be a fundamental restructuring of the Democratic Party in terms of how it functions and in terms of what it believes, ideologically, on all the ideas that I talk about and that many people in this room hold. That is what the American people want.”
Trump, whom he called a “fraud,” was able to figure out what Democrats could not: Too many Americans are struggling economically and are frustrated, angry, and “living in despair.”
“If you sit home and think Donald Trump won because all of the people who voted for him are racists or sexists or homophobes, I think you got it wrong. What he did is he developed campaign rhetoric and proposals . . . that addressed some of those issues,” he said.
“The only problem is that Donald Trump lied,” Sanders continued. “He told the American people during his campaign one thing, and the day after he was inaugurated he began to move this country in a very different way.”
More than 600 people braved the cold, slushy weather, most in the institute’s replica of the US Senate chamber, listening to Sanders in rapt silence. Another 200 watched in overflow rooms. The crowd cheered and applauded when Sanders called for increasing the minimum wage or installing universal health care.
Brenda Fluker said she was excited to finally see the senator from Vermont in person, having missed him during the campaign.
“There was nothing better to do this afternoon other than play hooky from work,” the 65-year-old minister and attorney from Mattapan said as she waited in line. “But I am looking forward to what he has to say about building the future.”
In her opinion, a better future means one in which people listen to one another for the “betterment of the entire nation instead of their self interests.”
There was a wait list of about 1,000 people who hoped to hear Sanders speak, according to officials at the EMK Institute. At least two of those people — Beyazmin Jimenez, 28, and Eli Policape, 29, both of Malden — were lucky enough to snag seats.
Jimenez, a Boston University student, said Policape, a student at UMass Lowell, felt the Bern long before she did.
“You were the one telling me to vote for Bernie when I was all gung-ho for Hillary,” she said as the two discussed their support for Sanders, in part, because he’s “kept a steady pace” regardless of how the political winds blew.
And that is especially important right now, Policape said, because “a lot of voters don’t know who’s the face of the Democratic Party, and a lot of people will say it’s Bernie even though he’s an Independent.”