DURHAM — Reducing the cost of higher education — an issue central to the presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. — was the topic of the day as he appeared at the University of New Hampshire with the woman who beat him for the Democratic nomination, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Clinton and Sanders discussed education costs and other topics before a packed house at the UNH indoor track facility Wednesday afternoon.
Clinton’s campaign hopes that by working with Sanders, many of his voters will come over to her side in her general-election contest against the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump.
“Bernie’s campaign energized so many young people,” Clinton said. “There is no group of Americans that has more at stake in this election than young Americans because so much of what will happen will affect your lives, your jobs, what kind of country we are and the future we want to build together. … The next 40 days will determine the next 40 years.”
Sanders received a majority of votes from young people throughout the country in the primary. Many of his progressive ideals made their way into Clinton’s campaign following her victory earlier this year.
“When you talk about public education, it’s no longer good enough to talk about first grade through high school,” Sanders said. “That was good 30 or 40 years ago, it is not enough today. Today when we talk about public education, it must be making public colleges and universities tuition free for the middle class and working families of this country.
“We came together after the campaign and reached an agreement that says that every family in this country earning $125,000 or less — that is 83 percent of our population — should be able to send their kids to public colleges and universities tuition-free,” Sanders continued.
The plan to make public higher education tuition-free has been criticized by opponents as being too expensive. However, Sanders and Clinton believe it is achievable.
“The truth is, it’s an expensive proposal,” Sanders said. “But I will tell you what’s even more expensive, and that is doing nothing. We must invest in our young people and the future of this country.”
Sanders criticized Trump’s economic plan as “disgraceful to be talking about hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for the top 1 percent. … So when you have Republicans telling us that it’s OK to give tens and tens of billions of dollars of tax breaks to the richest people of this country, do not tell me that we cannot afford to make public colleges and universities tuition-free.”
Clinton also promised to help those already carrying student debt to help decrease interest rates.
“It is absolutely outrageous that you can’t refinance student debt,” Clinton said. “And it’s even worse when you’re being charged interest rates that are so much higher than anything that anybody else has paid to buy a house, to buy a car. … I don’t know how we got to where we are but we are going to fix it.”
The UNH Field House reached its capacity of 1,200 quickly, leaving at least 500 students and members of the public outside, according to campaign staff.
Many college-aged attendees were Sanders supporters a few months ago, but switched to Clinton’s side when she became the nominee.
“I love the way she empowers other women,” said UNH freshman Sophie Manglass. “I think she is easily the best choice.”
Some of those waiting in line are not yet old enough to vote, including Kelvin Green, a senior at Phillips Exeter Academy who is missing the voting cut-off by one day.
“As a black student, Hillary’s platform on race relations is important to me,” Green said. “She has the experience to be president and is able to reach across party lines and work behind the scenes to get important things.”
Others did not need as much of a reason to cast a vote for the Democratic candidate.
“She’s not Trump,” UNH junior Sam Ordwell offered as a reason to support Clinton.
However, there were some in attendance who supported Sanders in the primary but did not plan on voting for Clinton in the general election.
“I was undecided during the New Hampshire primary,” said Alex Scholz-Karabakakis, 23, who held a sign for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. “But after hearing about how the (Democratic National Committee) and the Clinton campaign seemed to rig the election, I realized my interests weren’t being reflected.”
Doug Marino, a junior at UNH who found himself in the unique position of co-moderating the question-and-answer portion of the campaign stop, said those who like Sanders should read up on Clinton’s voting history before deciding to vote for somebody else.
“They really don’t disagree on much,” Marino said. “I would encourage everybody to read up on her record and her life’s work. If you really look at it, I don’t think Sanders supporters will have any problems voting for her. … I voted for Bernie in the primary but am very confident and comfortable supporting Hillary.”