He was joined by union leaders, grassroots activists, and state elected officials from across the commonwealth to hammer home that while the Scranton-native may diverge from Sanders and his allies on key issues, he will still give progressives a foot in the door.
“We need to elect Joe Biden so that we will have a president in office who will listen to this part of our party,” said state Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler (D-Philadelphia).
Biden, Sanders and company argued, would provide progressives with tangible gains, such as a $15-an-hour minimum wage or making it easier to join a union, even if some larger priorities, such as Medicare-for-All, might seem out of reach under a Biden presidency.
But even where Sanders might differ with Biden, the former Delaware Senator could also take first steps towards Sanders’ policy goals or rollback harm under the Trump administration.
For example, Sanders pointed out that Biden does back a public option. Also, Biden would address climate change, even if his plan falls short of the Green New Deal, instead of axing regulations that limit greenhouse gas emissions.
“The Biden Administration is not going to be the answer to all of our problems, but another four years of Trump will be a disaster,” Hannah Laurison, executive director of PA Stands Up, said.
She and other grassroots advocates argued that the new goal, with Biden at the top of the ballot, was to elected progressive lawmakers underneath him, so that they and an organized left could then hold Democrats accountable for their promises.
In fact, the town hall included four examples of such officials, such as Fiedler, who won contested primaries and sometimes beat long time Democratic incumbents to bring a progressive attitude to Harrisburg.
At least one viewer, hearing the message, opined in the chat that they were “sick of voting out bad guys. Can’t we just have a good guy to vote for already?”
According to polling, such “Bernie-or-bust” voters do not appear to be a common phenomenon.
According to a July survey by the New York Times and Siena College, 87% of Sanders’ primary supporters plan to support Biden, and just 4% plan to support Trump. The rest were unsure, would not vote, or would support a third party.
For comparison, 82% of supporters of former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg and 81% of supporters of Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said they would back Biden.
But with Pennsylvania, one of a handful of critical swing states decided by about 40,000 in 2016, all on the call recognized that every vote counted.
“You gotta reach out to people who think politics is bullshit and talk to them one-by-one,” Sanders said, making policy based pitches on affordable higher education — though Biden only backs tuitonless community college — or ending marijuana prosecutions — though Biden does not support full legalization.
As for Trump and his supporters, Sanders gave credit to the president on one front.
Sanders argued that Trump’s propensity to fight and be angry gave many struggling the impression that the former real estate mogul was looking out for them, even as he backs a lawsuit to eliminate the Affordable Care Act.
To counter Trump’s image, Sander argued, Democrats needed to push his broad platform in power, or face the consequences.
“If we don’t come up with an agenda and pass it that stands for working families and improve their lives, I don’t know how many more chances we’re going to get,” Sanders said.
Stephen Caruso is the House reporter of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.