DES MOINES — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., urged voters to consider candidates' policies over their personalities when choosing the next president during his rally Wednesday at the Bell Center at Drake University in Des Moines.
Sanders ran in the 2016 primary for the Democratic presidential nomination, losing to Hillary Clinton.
Sanders was known for his enthusiastic support among younger voters and those looking for a change from what they perceive as the political establishment.
Sanders told voters at the event to look past candidates' personalities and instead at their policies when choosing a candidate.
Sanders also used the event as an opportunity to compare and contrast positions he holds to those of Trump and Clinton.
Many students from Drake and the surrounding area were excited to attend the event, regardless if they agreed with Sanders.
One student, Madeline Dwelle, who is majoring in law, politics and society at Drake, is a Trump supporter but said, “I’m not really necessarily looking to vote for Hillary, but I just wanted to come out and see what Bernie has to say. One thing I did not like was that he talked about free college. I believe that nothing is free.”
College tuition was a central issue to Sanders’ primary campaign. The Vermont senator supported free tuition at all community colleges and public universities, which he said would be paid for by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculation.
After dropping out of the race and endorsing Clinton late in the summer, Sanders worked with her to draft plans for progressive college legislation to add to Clinton’s platform.
The new plan on Clinton’s website would offer free tuition to all public schools, but for families under an income threshold of $125,000 per year.
Sanders stressed the importance of making higher education affordable during his speech, saying he and Clinton agree that the economy thrives when the United States has a better educated workforce.
“We used to, several decades ago, have the highest percentage of our people graduating college than any other country on earth," Sanders said. "Today, that is no longer the case. Think about all of the scientists, engineers and teachers that are not getting the education they should.”
Sanders stressed his view, and that of Clinton's, saying it is unfair for students who are qualified but financially unable to attend college. Sanders also praised other countries that have tuition-free college.
“Those countries have reached a common-sense understanding that to invest in those young people is to invest in the future of their countries,” Sanders said.
Sanders touched on many other issues, including raising the minimum wage, pay equality and making health care affordable.
Sanders shared a plan he worked on with Clinton that would double government funding to health centers, which could then provide medical screenings, mental health services and low-cost pharmaceuticals.
Sanders spent the latter part of his speech talking about the difference in the message and rhetoric between Trump's campaign and the one he supported.
“I would have hoped that in the year 2016 the candidate of a major political party does not make the cornerstone of his campaign bigotry,” Sanders said.
Sanders said perceived bigotry and racism exists in the Trump campaign. He criticized Trump for his role in the Birther Movement, calling it a “racist effort to undermine the legitimacy of the first African-American president.”
Trump led the Birther Movement, calling for President Barack Obama to release his birth certificate, because of speculation that Obama was not born in the United States.
Sanders then reiterated Clinton’s campaign message of “Stronger Together” by encouraging diversity in America. He shared the story of his father who emigrated from Poland and loved the United States because of the opportunity it provided him.
“Our strength is our diversity,” Sanders said. “And in this room, we have people who come from every corner of the world. That is something we should be very, very proud of.”
Sanders' stump speech proved to be effective among young voters in Iowa.
“I thought he spoke really well,” said Natalie Larmer, a Drake student from Urbandale, Iowa. “I think he really took his and Hillary’s differences aside”
Students who supported Sanders during the caucus found his support of Clinton encouraging when deciding who to vote for.
“If Bernie trusts her to be president, I trust her to be president,” said Marco Nichols, a high school student from Des Moines and supporter of Bernie Sanders during the primary.