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Sanders makes surprise visit to Grand Forks, joining his wife

GRAND FORKS -- Bernie Sanders made a surprise visit Friday to a Grand Forks coffee shop, where he rallied support for his quest to be the Democratic nominee for president.

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Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane, campaign at Archives Coffee House on the UND campus Friday. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

GRAND FORKS -- Bernie Sanders made a surprise visit Friday to a Grand Forks coffee shop, where he rallied support for his quest to be the Democratic nominee for president.

The event was billed as a "community conversation" with Sanders' wife, Jane. But after a brief introduction, Jane Sanders introduced her husband to the crowd at the Archives Coffee House on the University of North Dakota campus.

The size of the gathering swelled after news of Sanders' arrival spread.

"I threw on clothes and a hat and jumped in my car, was literally sprinting across campus, and I got here just in time," said UND grad student Erin Kunz.

Sanders, a senator from Vermont, hit on campaign trail staples of income inequality, health care, college affordability and campaign finance reform.

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Sanders is taking on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, will stump in Fargo next week.

Sanders, who also spoke Friday in Fargo and Bismarck, made his North Dakota push less than a month before Democrats here will caucus on June 7. Five other states, including South Dakota, California and New Jersey, will hold primaries that day.

"We think we have a very good chance to do well on June 7," Sanders said.


On the issues

As in his national campaign, Sanders focused much of his remarks on income inequality and the shrinking middle class.

"The gap between the very, very wealthy and everybody else is growing wider," he said.

Sanders called health care "a right," and argued for tuition-free public colleges and universities. On the latter point, he said low-income children may be more successful in school if they expected to go to college and pointed to the millions of people struggling with student debt.

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"If we need the best-educated workforce in the world, why are we discouraging people?" Sanders said.

But Sanders also commented on issues more specific to this part of the country. He talked about his recent visit to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, which he said struggles with poverty and drug abuse.

"The way we treat the Native American people today is a national disgrace," Sanders said.

Sanders said a "corrupt campaign finance system" is "undermining American democracy," adding that he would overturn Citizens United, the controversial Supreme Court decision that held that the First Amendment protects political expenditures by corporations and unions.

Speaking on voter identification legislation, Sanders said he would "use the Justice Department to go after those states that are making it harder for people to vote."

The event also included some light-hearted moments, including when Sanders mistook UND interim President Ed Schafer for a member of the media, and when he realized it was snowing outside.

"Are we back in Vermont?" he said.

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Reaction

Friday's visit wasn't the first time a Democratic presidential nominee has visited Grand Forks. Both Barack Obama and Clinton stumped here in 2008.

State Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, said North Dakota has a "unique demographic," that includes research and technology ventures, energy interests and farmers.

"If you can speak and appeal to North Dakotans, you have a message that can resonate," he said.

Sanders' unexpected visit also brought a bit of impromptu opposition. Devin Kuhns and Frank Henning arrived with a sign in support of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. Henning, a student at UND, worried that tuition-free college would result in higher taxes and a larger national debt.

"I think Donald Trump would bring the America that I really want," he said.

But for Alyssa Rowland, Sanders' stance on college affordability is heartening, as she and many of her peers face significant student debt.

"I think he cares about all generations, current and future," she said.

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