Feb. 21-- SANTA ANA, Calif.-On the eve of the Nevada caucuses, Bernie Sanders took a detour to California to strengthen his support in a state that is crucial to his path to the Democratic presidential nomination.
Polls show the Vermont senator with a solid lead over his rivals in California's March 3 primary. But at a campaign stop in Santa Ana, he expressed concern that California is making it too difficult for some of his supporters to vote.
Many Californians who are not registered with a political party, he said, might not be aware that they must specifically request a Democratic ballot to vote in the party's presidential primary.
As a result, millions of voters "may find it impossible" to cast ballots in the Democratic primary, "and that seems to me to be very, very wrong," Sanders said.
"We should make it easier for people to participate in the political process, not harder," he said.
Sanders, who campaigned later in Bakersfield, is hoping for a large turnout of independent voters, called No Party Preference in California to differentiate from the American Independent Party. But just 9% of them have requested Democratic primary ballots so far.
More alarming for Sanders is that less than 5% of independents who are Latino and less than 5% of voters under 35 years old have requested Democratic primary ballots, according to Political Data, a nonpartisan election data company. Those are two of the voter groups that support Sanders the most in California.
At his rally in Santa Ana, Sanders told a crowd of about 1,500 mainly Latino young adults that he would reverse President Donald Trump's "racist" immigration policies.
"No federal agent will ever be grabbing babies from the arms of their mothers," he told the cheering crowd on a sports field at a high school. "We will not be locking children up in cages."
At a time when two of his rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, have been criticizing his past support of the gun industry, Sanders also promised an assault-weapon ban and other gun-control measures.
"Let me simply say to you that our gun policy will be written by the American people, not the NRA," Sanders said, referring to the National Rifle Association.
In Bakersfield, Sanders confirmed a Washington Post report that U.S. officials have told him that Russia was trying to help his campaign as part of an effort to interfere in the Democratic presidential race. He called Russian President Vladimir Putin a thug and an autocrat who was trying to cause chaos and stir up hatred in America.
"He may be a friend of Donald Trump, he's not a friend of mine," Sanders said.
U.S. intelligence agencies' have said Russia interfered in the 2016 election to boost President Trump's campaign, and have warned that the nation is continuing to meddle to help Trump.
(c)2020 Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.