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Bernie Sanders Targets Teachers With New 2020 Ad Campaign About Strikes

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 9/17/2019 Lauren Camera
Bernie Sanders wearing a microphone: DES MOINES, IOWA - AUGUST 11: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) delivers a 20-minute campaign speech at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair August 11, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. Twenty-two of the 23 politicians seeking the Democratic Party presidential nomination will be visiting the fair this week, six months ahead of the all-important Iowa caucuses. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) © (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) DES MOINES, IOWA - AUGUST 11: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) delivers a 20-minute campaign speech at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair August 11, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. Twenty-two of the 23 politicians seeking the Democratic Party presidential nomination will be visiting the fair this week, six months ahead of the all-important Iowa caucuses. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A new advertising campaign from Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is tapping into the educator unrest that swept the country over the last two years and prompted thousands of teachers to walk the picket lines, hold sick-outs, march and protest over issues of pay, class size, charter schools and resources.

The new digital ad, filmed at a teachers rally in Charleston, West Virginia, is a strategic play in a state considered a stronghold for President Donald Trump – and one that no Democratic president candidate has carried since 1996 – but one that Sanders' campaign believes the Vermont senator could appeal to independent and white working class voters.

Sanders won the 2016 West Virginia primary by more than 15 points and his campaign pollster has been touting an online survey that he says shows Sanders would beat Trump by 2 percentage points.

In 2018, teachers in West Virginia held a nine-day walkout, swarmed the state house and eventually won a raise from state lawmakers. Their success prompted similar rallies and strikes around the country, including notably in conservative and swing states with weak teachers unions, like Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina and Oklahoma.

Teachers are the top occupation of Sanders' donors, according to the campaign, with teachers from all 50 states making more than 80,000 contributions so far this year.

"While other candidates court big money at fancy fundraisers, this campaign is supported by teachers from West Virginia and every state in the country," Faiz Shakir, Sanders' campaign manager, said in a statement. "Teachers are putting what little money they have left over after buying school supplies behind the one candidate who can bring about the transformative change this country needs."

Sanders has proposed raising starting teacher salaries to at least $60,000 as part of his Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education, which he unveiled over the summer. The plan would also increase spending for poor students and students with disabilities, as well as ban for-profit charter schools and put a moratorium on federal funding for new charter schools.

Sanders, along with most of the Democratic candidates who are also members of Congress, have vocalized their support for teachers walking the picket lines over the last two years.

Sanders helped raise about $100,000 for the LA teachers strike fund, according to his campaign, by sending a national email to his fundraising list in support of striking educators there.

"We were afraid to go on strike," Jay O'Neal, a West Virginia teacher who helped lead the walkout, says during the new Sanders' ad. "I remember talking to my wife like, 'Is this a risk I want to take? I might be fired.' But circumstances are just getting to that point where it's pushing a lot of us to that place where we finally have got to stand up no matter what the consequences are."

The ad shows throngs of educators wearing red and chanting in the state house.

"Somebody has got to do something and I guess that somebody is me," O'Neal says. "It's up to us. Nobody else is going to make the change."

The ad is sure to catch the attention of the two national teachers unions, which are similarly attempting to capitalize on the educator activism to bolster funding for traditional public education at a time when school choice policies are being implemented at the state and federal level. Teachers unions argue those policies that emphasize charter schools and private school vouchers siphon money from traditional public schools.

The 3.5 million-member National Education Association and the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers are primed to flex their political muscle and open their purses this election cycle in order to oust President Donald Trump, whose signature education policy agenda – school choice – and proposals to slash K-12 spending are anathema to their goals.

Combined, the NEA and the AFT made $64 million in contributions to candidates, political parties, 527 committees and outside spending groups during the 2016 election cycle, according to Open Secrets, a nonprofit tracker of money in politics.

The ad roll-out comes as Sanders, along with other top Democratic presidential hopefuls, are in Philadelphia courting the country's largest union, the AFL-CIO.

Copyright 2019 U.S. News & World Report

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