LYNCHBURG, Virginia—At first glance, the scene Monday morning looked like any other Bernie Sanders campaign event: The candidate stood on stage in front of nearly 12,000 people in a packed stadium on a college campus, ready to pitch his 2016 candidacy to the crowd.
But then he spoke. “I want all of you, if you would, to put this in the context of the Bible…”
Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, ventured far out of his comfort zone Monday when he took his surging campaign to students at the evangelical Christian Liberty University in southwestern Virginia. The Sanders who took the stage was the same man who pitches his economic populist message to adoring crowds across the country, the one who forcefully defends abortion rights and rails on the country’s economic inequality—but he also worked hard to connect with his skeptical audience by framing his message as one of “morality” and “justice.” He quoted from the Bible and praised Pope Francis; he bowed his head in prayer and spoke about how to “bring our people together.”
The Vermont senator began by stressing the need for common ground in politics, noting that too often there is “too much shouting at each other.”
“It is easy to go out and talk to people who agree with you,” Sanders said, noting his crowd of 9,000 in Greensboro, North Carolina, the previous night. “That’s not hard to do. That’s what politicians by and large do, we go out and we talk to people who agree with us. But it is harder—but not less important—for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue.”