Iowans weigh health concerns in first Iowa City Bernie Sanders stop since heart attack

Bernie Sanders made his first swing through Iowa City after a heart attack caused him to cancel events in early October. While he didn’t mention his health in the speech, attendees expressed concerns about how it would affect his campaign.


Tate Hildyard

Bernie Sanders speaks before citizens at a rally in downtown Iowa City on Friday, October 25th, 2019. Bernie Sanders made an appearance downtown to drum up support for the upcoming Presidential Caucus. (Tate Hildyard/The Daily Iowan)

Caleb McCullough, Politics Reporter


Caucusgoers were torn over the effect of health concerns around Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., at a rally held at the Pedestrian Mall on Oct. 25.

More than 1,000 people gathered in front of the Graduate Hotel as Sanders stuck to familiar talking points in his first swing through Iowa since he canceled a visit to the state in early October after a heart attack.

He railed against corruption on Wall Street, the American health-care system, and the fossil-fuel industry. Much of the speech was focused on climate change and his proposal to combat it, which he called “the most comprehensive proposal” of the current presidential candidates.

“I have been criticized because that proposal is expensive, and it’s true. It is expensive — 16 trillion bucks over a 10-year period,” Sanders said. “But I want somebody to tell me what the alternative is to saving the planet.”

Sanders is riding on two powerful endorsements in the past week, from Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, who is among the “50 most wanted Iowa Democrats” for 2020 candidates named by the Des Moines Register. Walker welcomed Sanders to the stage before his speech.

Many attending the rally interviewed by The Daily Iowan were undecided about who they would caucus for, and Sanders’ health was a concerning factor for them. More attention has been paid to Sanders’ health and age in the past month after he was hospitalized due to a heart attack on Oct. 1.

At age 78, Sanders would be the oldest American president in history, an issue that is on the minds of young voters. A poll of likely caucusgoers released by online polling and analytics company Civiqs on Oct. 24 showed Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., leading in support from 18-34 year-olds, an age group that Sanders led in a similar poll from September.

University of Iowa freshman Molly Warriner said she is still deciding between Sanders and Warren. She said she isn’t personally concerned that Sanders’ health would affect his potential presidency, but she worries about his electability.

“I think it’s definitely going to hurt the way he’s polling,” Warriner said. “…I want to see if he’s going to bring it up, handle it with grace, because that would mean a lot for how he would handle things as president.”

Sanders did not discuss his health at the event, but he has recently begun speaking about concerns surrounding his age at other events. At various stops this week, Sanders has attempted to portray his age to his benefit, pointing to his decades of political experience.

UI senior Jamie Wilhelmi, a Warren supporter, said she’s worried about Sanders’ ability to complete his term in office and the optics of having a president of his age.

“He’s pretty old… He’s had one heart attack. If he drops dead in office, that’s probably dangerous,” she said. “Also, the way we’re going to look to foreign countries having a president whose health is a little shaky — we would look a little bit unstable.”

Davenport resident Katy Baggs, who said Sanders is her top pick of the Democratic hopefuls, said she isn’t concerned about Sanders’ health or age. She said the October health scare could turn out to be a good thing, pointing to the fact that Ocasio-Cortez decided to endorse Sanders after his heart attack.

“It hasn’t made me think of his campaign less,” she said. “I think it was a wake-up call for a lot of people to work even harder on his campaign. He’s healthier than he was a month ago.”

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