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Bernie Sanders visits Rutgers ahead of N.J. primary

PISCATAWAY — With thousands packed into the Rutgers Athletic Center, supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) had a chance to “feel the Bern” with the Democratic presidential candidate himself.

Sanders held a campaign rally on Rutgers’ Livingston campus Sunday as part of his two-day visit to New Jersey. A second appearance is scheduled for Monday at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

The Vermont senator’s New Jersey visit marks the first Garden State appearance by a presidential candidate since Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) kicked off his own campaign at his high school in Livingston last June.

“We have come a very long way in the last year. We have made the financial establishment, the political establishment and the media establishment quite nervous — that is a good thing,” Sanders said. “They need to get nervous because real change is coming to America.”

With eyes set on the Garden State’s June 7 primary, Sanders continued to promote his vision of greater socioeconomic equality in the United States, specifically targeting a 5 percent decline in New Jersey’s median household income.

Poverty in New Jersey is 40 percent higher now than it was before the stock market crash of 2008 — a figure that reflects the most impoverished Garden State in more than 50 years, Sanders said.

“It is impossible to go forward unless we have the courage to confront reality, not sweep it under the rug,” Sanders said. “So here’s reality: You’re living in a nation today, which prides itself on being a great democracy, when in truth we have a corrupt campaign finance system, which is undermining our democracy.”

In addition to changes to the U.S. economy, Sanders called for criminal justice and campaign finance reform. He called for a reduction in police brutality, greater environmental stewardship and said it was time to “rethink the so-called War on Drugs.”

The Vermont senator promised to change national priorities if elected president. He said he would avoid war and invest in urban development to relieve impoverished Americans.

“How is it that we have trillions of dollars to spend on a war in Iraq that we never should’ve gotten into, but somehow, somehow, we don’t have the money to rebuild the inner cities of this country?” he said.

To give perspective, Sanders said a man from McDowell County, W. Va., dies 18 years younger on average than a man from Fairfax County, Va., just six hours away. This puts the quality of life of impoverished Americans on par with citizens of Guatemala.

“Whether you’re living in an inner city in America or you’re living in a rural community, poverty is a death sentence,” Sanders said.

Today’s generation of young people will have a lower standard of living than their parents for the first time in modern American history if the U.S. economic system is not changed in some way, Sanders said.

“That’s called the American Dream: Parents work hard to help their kids do better,” he said. “Together, we are not going to allow that American Dream to die.”

Sanders said the best way to promote this American Dream is to invest in the education of young people by offering tuition-free higher education.

“We should not be punishing young people for doing the right thing, we should be rewarding them,” he said. “The world has changed, the economy has changed, technology has changed. Young people today need more education than their parents and their grandparents. That’s just a fact.”

The Democratic nominee needs to win 2,383 delegates to secure the party's nomination.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears poised to clinch the Democratic nomination, leading with 2,205 delegates, including 522 super-delegates. Sanders trails Clinton with 1,401 delegates, including just 39 super-delegates.

But while he continues to trail Clinton, the margin is shrinking. According to an April 18 Rutgers-Eagleton poll, 51 percent of New Jersey's left-leaning registered voters support Clinton. Forty-two percent support Sanders. This marks the first single-digit margin separating the two candidates in the Garden State.

Democrats, independents, women and nonwhite voters now view Sanders more favorably than Clinton, according to the Rutgers-Eagleton poll. His momentum is powered largely by Democratic-leaning independents. Clinton maintains a strong 57 percent grip on confirmed Democrats.

“The preferences of unaffiliated voters could be an important factor in the primary,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, in a press release. “New Jerseyans who have not yet declared a party affiliation may do so at the polls on primary day, and those who want to switch parties could have done so up until just a few days ago.”

Both Clinton and Sanders decisively beat presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump in a hypothetical general election matchup, with Clinton winning 50 percent to 36 percent, and Sanders carrying a more definitive 55 percent to Trump’s 34 percent.

Trump will make an appearance in Lawrenceville on May 19 at an invitation-only rally, where $200 tickets will help retire Gov. Chris Christie’s $286,982 campaign debt. The New Jersey governor endorsed Trump two weeks after dropping out of the Republican race.

“The American people are not going to elect a president who insults Mexicans and Latinos, who insults Muslims, who insults women (and) who insults veterans, who insults African-Americans,” Sanders said. “Trump will not be elected president because the American people understand that we are stronger when we come together.”

Clinton will be campaigning in the Camden area Wednesday — about one month before New Jersey voters hit the polls on primary day. The former Secretary of State won the Garden State in 2008 when she ran against then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

New Jersey's 142 total delegates make it the second-most delegate-rich state that has not voted. Garden State Democrats vote with North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Montana and California on June 7.

“If there is a large voter turnout in the New Jersey Democratic primary, we’re going to win,” Sanders said. “Please do everything that you can to make sure that that primary has the highest voter turnout in New Jersey history … show the world that you are ready for the political revolution.”

Dan Corey is the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Targum. He is a Rutgers Business School sophomore majoring in marketing and journalism and media studies. Follow him on Twitter @danielhcorey for more.