Politics

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders packed Louisville’s Palace Theater Tuesday night during a campaign-style rally intended to unify and rebuild the Democratic Party after last year’s elections.

“We need to make the Democratic Party not just the party of the east coast and the west coast, but the party for all 50 states,” Sanders said.

The event was part of a speaking tour through conservative states across the country with the new chair of the Democratic Party, Tom Perez.

DNC chairman Tom Perez rallies the crowd in Louisville.

Sanders echoed promises he made during his presidential campaign last year — proposals to raise the minimum wage, make public colleges tuition-free, close the pay-gap between men and women and raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations.

He also called for a “Medicaid for all, single-payer system” and criticized Republicans for attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“You don’t need a Ph.D. in economics to know that it is immoral and bad economics to support legislation that would throw hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians off of the health care that they have — would do serious damage to the economy here,” Sanders said.

Sanders performed well in Kentucky during last year’s Democratic primary election — he split the state’s delegates with eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

But Democrats performed poorly in the state’s presidential election, with Kentuckians voting in favor of Republican Donald Trump by one of the widest margins in the country — nearly 30 percentage points over Clinton.

Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes called on candidates in her party to reach out to voters outside of big cities.

“Rural voters matter,” Grimes said. “And if we are going to turn this nation around, Kentucky has to rise up. You need to get up, you need to get out and you need to get loud.”

Jefferson and Fayette Counties — the most populous counties — were the only in the state that didn’t vote in favor of Trump during the November election.

Bernie Sanders addresses the crowd during a rally at the Louisville Palace.

In a statement, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel criticized the event, calling it an “unhinged, profanity-laced roadshow.”

“Over the past few election cycles, Bluegrass voters have soundly rejected the job-killing, leftist policies espoused by Perez, Sanders, and the Democrat Party,” McDaniel said. “Instead, voters have entrusted Republicans to apply conservative principles to lead Kentucky forward. The sideshow and failed liberal policies that were on display tonight will do nothing to change that.”

Perez cursed twice during the event — at one point calling President Trump’s proposed “skinny budget” a “s–tty budget.”

Sanders and Perez are also holding rallies in Florida, Arizona, Montana, Utah and Nebraska — all states that voted for Trump.

This story has been corrected.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.