CONWAY — They were feeling the Bern, and the heat, at Monday's North Conway town hall with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
An estimated 460 people crammed into the unair-conditioned North Conway Community Center to hear the Vermont senator outline his campaign themes of reform and leadership.
For many who “felt the Bern” when Sanders visited the venue in February 2016, there was a feeling of "deja vu all over again," as Sanders touched on all of the same subjects.
But that was just fine with the crowd, who cheered with every remark, which included Sanders' policies concerning Medicare for all, free college tuition at public universities, elimination of college debt, taking on the gun lobby and fossil fuel companies, and challenging the industrial military complex, Wall Street and Big Pharm.
The energetic 77-year-old said his stands on those issues no longer seem as radical as they did three years ago. “It turns out that when people speak and get involved in the political process, what once seemed radical turns out not to be radical,” he said.
One of the loudest rounds of applause greeted this statement: “Four years ago, I came to New Hampshire, and my views on health care were criticized as a radical, extreme idea: I repeat now that health care is a right, not a privilege.”
Sanders said working-class Americans spend 25 percent of their income on health care and that last year, 500,000 Americans went bankrupt due to health-care costs.
“You shouldn’t have to worry about financial ruin to get better,” said Sanders. “The function of the current system is very simple: It is to make as much profit as you can with the insurance and drug companies in partnership with the health-care industry.”
He shared how he traveled to Ontario recently and noted that Canadian citizens pay far less for drugs, including a tenth of what Americans pay for insulin. In America, he said, some people with Type 1 diabetes are rationing their insulin — “an extremely dangerous thing to do.”
He said Medicare for all would cover dental, hearing aids and eyeglasses, and added that it would be phased in incrementally: the age threshold would at first be dropped from 65 to 55, then 55 to 45, then on to 35, and “then we would cover every man woman and child in this country,” he said.
He said his plan will “lower the cost of health care, but you will pay more in taxes, yes — but it will be far less complicated and less expensive that what you are paying now.”
Addressing the recent mass shootings, Sanders said, “No one has a magical solution” but said there is no question there needs to be expanded background checks “to make sure that people who should not own guns do not own guns.
“Assault weapons are weapons of war — in my view, we should not be having the sale and distribution of assault weapons in this country,” said Sanders, again getting a huge ovation.
“So, if this is what the American people want, why isn’t Congress dealing with it? The answer is: the NRA,” said Sanders. “The time is now for (Republican Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell and the Senate to have the guts to address this. For God’s sake, let us debate the issues.”
Another major theme for Sanders was climate change, countering what he said President Donald Trump has “tragically and dangerously” called a hoax.
“We are in a crisis. Why are we not dealing with this?” asked Sanders.
“I am the father of four children and seven grandchildren. I am determined to make sure the planet we leave (to them) is a planet that is healthy and habitable!”
He then spoke about a favorite topic (both in 2016 and this year): income inequality and how the “top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.
"Fifty percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck,” added Sanders.
He also brought up how several polls show he can beat Trump in a national election. Against Trump, he said, “We are going to beat him bad, as we are going to bring the American people together around an agenda that works for all of us and not just the 1 percent.”
Sanders spoke for 46 minutes, arriving from Wolfeboro at 7:15 p.m. He was introduced by Conway resident Erik Corbett, former chair of the Carroll County Democrats.
Following his speech, he took questions for 25 minutes from the audience.
Among the questioners was local Realtor, Conway Planning Board and Municipal Budget Committee member Steve Steiner of Conway.
Steiner asked about the opioid crisis, noting he lost a son in 2001 because no one knew the dangers of Oxycontin.
Sanders said he was sorry for Steiner’s loss. He also said that if drug manufacturers knew the drugs were addictive and dangerous, they should be held criminally accountable, another crowd-pleasing remark.
One woman said the medical community has pulled back from giving painkilling medication to those who need it. In response, Sanders said the goals of cutting down on abuses and serving those who need the drugs can both be met.
Prior to Sanders’ arrival, some voters said they think a Sanders-(Elizabeth) Warren ticket would be a good one to support.
After his Conway Town Hall, Sanders was scheduled Tuesday to take part in a “Breakfast with Bernie Town Hall” at the White Mountain Chalet in Berlin at 10 a.m. His New Hampshire campaign stops were capped off by an ice cream social at the Littleton Opera House in Littleton at 1 p.m.
For more on Sanders' campaign, go to berniesanders.com.