Omaha Mayoral Race Stirs National Debate as DNC Endorses Anti-Abortion Democrat

April 21, 2017

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders told a cheering crowd in Omaha on Thursday that he thinks mayoral candidate Heath Mello is part of the Democratic Party of the future.

But some Democrats don’t agree, and Sanders’ appearance at a rally for Mello at Baxter Arena sparked a national debate about whether the party needs to focus on progressive policies and reject Democratic politicians like Mello who are opposed to abortion.

Sanders was in Omaha as part of a “Come Together, Fight Back, Vote Democrats” national tour aimed at promoting Democratic candidates in local races this year. Mello is running against incumbent Mayor Jean Stothert, a Republican, in what is officially a nonpartisan race.

Sanders is an independent U.S. senator from Vermont who unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic nomination for president. He laid out a vision for the country that he said involves a Democratic Party that “stand(s) up for voters in 50 states, not just the West Coast and the East Coast.”

“Omaha, are you ready for a political revolution?” he asked the crowd of about 6,000.

The rally lasted three hours.

During his 45-minute speech, Sanders touched on positions that would be familiar to those who followed his presidential campaign: expanded access to health care, paid family leave, free college tuition and a pathway to citizenship for those who entered the country illegally. And, of course, he devoted much time to economic inequality.

“The way we defeat money and power is by putting together a strong grass-roots coalition,” Sanders said. “The country is now looking at Omaha, Nebraska, as the first step.”

Earlier Thursday, however, abortion-rights advocates argued that Sanders and the Democratic Party shouldn’t support those who favor restricting abortion. They pointed to Mello’s co-sponsorship of a 2009 bill in the Nebraska Legislature that gives a woman seeking an abortion the option to see an ultrasound, if one is done.

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