CHARLOTTE — Vowing that “change is coming,” U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders returned to North Carolina on Friday, days after winning the New Hampshire primary and becoming the latest frontrunner in the Democratic presidential race.

“This 2020 election is the most consequential election in modern American history or maybe the entire history of our country,” he told more than 2,000 people at Belk Theater in uptown Charlotte. “Damn right we’re going to beat Donald Trump.”

After winning New Hampshire as well as the popular vote in the Iowa caucuses, Sanders has topped most national polls. Like other candidates, he’s turning his attention to Nevada and South Carolina, which hold their nominating contests this month, as well as North Carolina and other Super Tuesday states that vote March 3.

“Certainly he has the momentum coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire,” said political scientist Michael Bitzer of Catawba College. “The national polls have him ahead. But there’s still a lot of primaries to go.”

Sanders’ visit came a day after former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg barnstormed the Piedmont. Other candidates are expected this month.

At an earlier rally in Durham, Sanders tried to contrast his campaign with that of his opponents by saying it was funded not by “the billionaire class” but by a large army of small donors, and that he wanted to not only beat Trump but to “transform this country.”

“The status quo is not working. We want change,” he told the cheering crowd. “The establishment is getting nervous. That’s good.”

Trump injected himself into the conversation Friday.

“It is happening again to Crazy Bernie, just like last time, only far more obvious,” he tweeted. “They are taking the Democratic nomination away from him, and there’s very little he can do. A rigged system!”

Sanders blasted Trump as “the most dangerous president in the modern history of America.”

“The reason we’re going to win is that the American people realize ... we cannot continue to have a president of the United States who is a pathological liar, who is running a corrupt administration ... who thinks he is above the law. Who is a racist. A homophobe ... and a religious bigot,” he told around 3,000 people in Durham. “And those are his good qualities.”

At both stops, Sanders offered a litany of progressive proposals. Among them:

  • Student debt: “If we can bail out the crooks on Wall Street,” he said, “we can cancel all student debt in America.”
  • Climate change: Sanders said he’s about to propose a sweeping proposal modeled on the Green New Deal. He called the climate “an existential threat.”
  • Health care: Over four years, he would transform health care to “Medicare for all” and expand Medicare to cover everything from dental care to home health care.”

Actors Danny Glover and Susan Sarandon warmed up the Charlotte crowd. Sarandon said Sanders will bring “real systemic change” and echoed someone in the crowd who shouted “No centrism!”

Emi Miller, 72, a registered nurse from Matthews, said: “If there’s anyone who is going to save our country, it’s Bernie.”

“He’s been at this for 20-plus years,” she added. “He’s raised the bar of honesty. And he has gathered all the youth, which is almost an impossible task. Whether Bernie is successful at winning the nomination or not, there is not anything that is going to stop this movement.”

This article is published through the N.C. News Collaborative, a partnership of BH Media, Gannett and McClatchy newspapers in North Carolina that aims to better inform readers throughout the state.

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