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Bernie Sanders Packs The House In Kansas City, Kansas, Rally For Brent Welder

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

This story was updated Saturday at 11:55 a.m.

In a room where it was hotter inside than outside, several thousand people stood shoulder-to-shoulder Friday evening to hear two progressive stars.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came to Kansas City, Kansas, Friday to boost the congressional campaign of Brent Welder. He's one of six Democrats fighting it out to face incumbent Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder in November.

A Democratic Socialist, Ocasio-Cortez beat Rep. Joe Crowely, the number four Democrat in the House, in their primary in New York's 14th District in the Bronx. In a heavely Democratic district, she's almost assured of going to Congress next year.

And she sounded like it. “We are going to take back the House of Representatives this November,” she thundered to the crowd in the Reardon Center in downtown Kansas City, Kansas. Ocasio-Cortez mentioned Welder twice in her 20 minute speech. Her pitch was aimed more at Democrats winning in the fall.

Democrats need to win 24 seats to control the House, and the Kansas Third District is one race being targeted by the national party.

Ocasio-Cortez did score some points with the Kansas crowd by mentioning that her fifth grade teacher in the Bronx was a native Kansan. “She always had this pride about Kansas, about her home state," she said. "And she always made sure that every ten-year-old New Yorker who walked in that classroom knew how amazing this state was.”

After Ocasio-Cortez warmed up the crowd, Welder was next. His walk on song, "A Little Less Conversation" by Elvis.

A labor lawyer now, he played up his working class roots growing up in a small Iowa town. “The local grocery store had a cut rate special on the family 64-pack of hotdogs," Welder said. "That was the only way that we were economically able to get by. The 64-pack of mystery meat.”

He then went on to touch on everything the crowded apparently wanted to hear: a $15 minimum wage, single payer health care, immigrant rights and gun control.

Welder barely mentioned Yoder, calling him a "right wing" congressman near the end of his speech.

Sanders spoke last, and many in the crowd came from outside the district to hear him. Sanders, a former Democratic candidate for president, also hit many of his campaign favorites, including prescription drug prices, student debt and the Koch brothers.

Sanders appointed Welder to the Democratic Convention platform committee and gave Welder the strongest endorsement of the evening. “He’s shown time and time again the guts to stand up to big money interests and to represent working families.”

Because this is a crucial national race the Republicans did not let this rally, and a similar one in Wichita, go without comment. "These wildly progressive policies would wreak havoc on the livelihood of every American and Kansans know that," Kerry Rom from National Republican Congressional Committee said in an emailed statement hours before the Kansas City rally.

The rally was not the only activity in 3rd District Democratic race Friday. Educator Tom Niermann spent the day door knocking with elected officials. That included state Sen. Barbara Bollier, the Republican who crossed party lines to endorse Niermann.

Perhaps the most surprising move Friday was the endorsement of Sharice Davids by singer Janelle Monae. In a tweet, Monae, who grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, said "Thank you @sharicedavids for being a voice for other human beings whose voices are pushed to the margins of society."

Davids wasn't the only candidate to get a little star power Friday. Mike McCamon, an IT executive, tweeted out a photo of him and Matt Damon with this quote attribued to the actor, "When we launched http://Water.org in 2009, Mike played a key role in our mission that has helped millions of people get safe water and the dignity of a toilet. We need more people in our government like Mike who are deeply committed to fixing our world."

Correction: This story has been corrected to note that Davids wasn't the only candidate to get star power on Friday.

Sam Zeffis KCUR's Metro Reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter @samzeff

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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