Bernie Sanders laid out his vision for a potential presidential campaign in an address at Drake University on Friday afternoon, a bid he stressed hinges on young voters and grass-roots support.
Sanders, a stout liberal and U.S. senator from Vermont, was on day two of a three-day litmus test tour through Iowa as he decides whether he will run in 2016.
"What I'm trying to ascertain right now, here in Iowa … is whether in fact there is the support," Sanders said. "Is there support in America, or are people so demoralized?"
At Drake, Sanders described an America increasingly controlled by super-rich political donors at the expense of middle- and lower-class workers, families and college students. The increasing problem of big money in politics encompasses education costs, jobs, health care and women's rights, he said.
"If you're concerned about any of those issues, you must be concerned about Citizens United and money in politics in America," Sanders said.
The Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in 2010 ushered in an unrestricted influx of money that shapes elections through election ads. The decision, Sanders said, threatens the way of grass-roots democracy seen in the Iowa caucuses.
"Iowa, you have a historical role in terms of the Iowa caucuses … one person, one vote," Sanders said. "It is an example of grass-roots democracy. But as a result of Citizens United, we are losing that, and political power is now lasting with the billionaire class."
Solutions can't happen, Sanders said, until progressive Americans turn out en masse to participate in the political process. He lamented turnouts for the 2014 midterms, in which only 36 percent of registered voters went to polls.
Sanders cast his vision of an America where the minimum wage is $15 and where pay equity is law. He called on the U.S. to take cues from Germany and Scandinavia and make college free. He said it's consumers who drive the economy and create jobs, not CEOs.
Sanders, a second-term senator at 73, describes himself as a Democratic Socialist but serves as an independent. He spent 16 years in the House of Representatives, making him Congress' longest-serving independent.
One Drake student, Clay Pasqual, 19, asked Sanders if he would run for president.
Sanders said he's considering it, of course. But he has hesitancy. Sanders said the only way he could win the presidency in 2016 is with an unprecedented grass-roots movement in Iowa and beyond.
Even if 3 million Americans gave his campaign $100 each, Sanders said to Pasqual, it would amount to a third of the nearly $900 million conservative billionaires Charles Koch and David Koch plan to spend in 2016.
"Let me throw it back to you," Sanders said. "All right, Clay, tell me: Do you think there is the support in this country?"
"There was for President Obama," said Pasqual, a freshman in political science. "I think there would be for you as well."
"I'm going to take on people that President Obama didn't take on," Sanders said.
Pasqual didn't seem fazed: "Well, we'll just have to mobilize harder."