Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez Draw Thousands In Wichita To Support James Thompson
About 4,000 people attended a political rally Friday at Century II in Wichita in support of James Thompson, one of two Democrats running in Kansas' 4th Congressional District.
But perhaps the biggest draws at the "Unite for America" rally were Vermont senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who both endorsed Thompson in his second bid for Congress.
Sanders said this year's midterm election is a chance for the state to send a message to Washington.
"And that message is that in a so-called conservative state, the people in Kansas demand a government that works for them," he said, "not just the Koch brothers.
"Let us stand together here in Kansas, in Vermont, and in the Bronx. Let us transform our economic and political system, let us elect James Thompson to the Congress."
In his speech, Thompson highlighted his progressive values, calling for Medicare for all and a $15 minimum wage.
"I'm not 'Republican lite,'" he said. "If our state wanted Republican lite, then we would have elected somebody in the past 20 years as a Democrat here, but I looked at what we had been doing in our district and that doesn't work. If a centrist message would have worked, then Hillary Clinton would have won here in 2016."
Sanders won the Kansas Democratic presidential caucus over Clinton with nearly twice the number of votes. He and Ocasio-Cortez each noted that Kansas isn't the "Republican state" many in the country think it is.
But, said Ocasio-Cortez, "wherever there is working-class people, there is hope for the progressive movement."
Several community leaders also supported Thompson at the event, including local union activist Dennis Romero and Democratic Rep. Gail Finney of Wichita.
Thompson ran in last year's special election to replace Mike Pompeo, but lost to Rep. Ron Estes by fewer than 10 percentage points. Thompson will face businesswoman Laura Lombard in the Democratic primary election on Aug. 7.
“While we appreciate Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez coming to town," Lombard said in a statement Friday, "Kansas Democrats will make their own decisions regarding who they believe has the strongest policies and vision for our entire district."
The rally was originally going to be held at the Orpheum Theatre, but was later moved to Century II after estimated attendance became higher than organizers initially expected. Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez were also scheduled to attend a rally Friday evening in support of Brent Welder, one of six Democrats running the 3rd Congressional District primary.
Hugo Phan also contributed to this story
Ascha Lee is an intern with KMUW's Engagement team and the News Lab. Follow her on Twitter @AschaLee.