Many of the words Senator Bernie Sanders used in Brooklyn on Saturday as he kicked off his second run for president were familiar: “revolution,” “economic justice,” “prison-industrial complex.”
But one word was not: “I.”
“I was born literally a few miles away from here,” he told the crowd.
“I lived in a three-and-a-half-room rent-controlled apartment,” he thundered.
“I was educated proudly in high-quality public schools,” he said.
During his last presidential campaign, and throughout his political career, Mr. Sanders has offered a policy-focused message almost entirely devoid of personal details. At Saturday’s rally, however, he did something new: He talked about himself.
“I know where I came from!” he shouted as his supporters roared. “And that is something I will never forget.”
It was a drastic shift for Mr. Sanders, 77, and part of a broader campaign strategy that is centered in part on persuading the Vermont senator to reveal more of his personal story. His advisers are hoping that in telling voters more about himself, as he did at the rally on the Brooklyn College campus and as he planned to do on Sunday in Chicago, Mr. Sanders will offer voters not just his now-familiar policy positions but also a glimpse into the upbringing that shaped them.
And they are hoping in particular to draw a contrast between Mr. Sanders — who grew up the son of a Jewish immigrant who sold paint to hardware stores — and another native New Yorker, President Trump.
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Beneath an overcast sky, as clumps of fresh snow fell from trees behind him, Mr. Sanders regaled enthusiastic supporters, who had jammed into every corner of the campus’s main quad, with largely familiar advocacy for “Medicare for all,” a $15 minimum wage and tuition-free public college. By no means did he shy away from his favorite criticisms of billionaires, big corporations and Mr. Trump. He denounced Amazon, Netflix and General Motors.
But it was his personal story — against the backdrop of a snow-covered college campus — that drew the loudest cheers.
“Let me say a few personal words,” he said. “As we launch this campaign for president, you deserve to know where I came from.”
He talked about his father, who immigrated to the United States from Poland at age 17 and whose family “was wiped out by Hitler and Nazi barbarism.” He spoke of his mother, who died young but had dreamed that her family would move out of their apartment to “a home of our own.”
“I am not going to tell you that I grew up in a home of desperate poverty,” he said. “That would not be true. But what I will tell you is that coming from a lower-middle-class family, I will never forget how money — or, really, lack of money — was always a point of stress in our family.”
He also drew direct comparisons between his own early life and Mr. Trump’s.
“I did not have a father who gave me millions of dollars to build luxury skyscrapers, casinos and country clubs,” he said at one point.
“I did not come from a family of privilege that prepared me to entertain people on television by telling workers, ‘You’re fired,’” he boomed at another.
At the same time as Mr. Sanders’s rally, Mr. Trump spoke for more than two hours at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a gathering of activists just outside Washington.
The president attacked Democrats as socialists, denounced a “Green New Deal” and warned about a government takeover of health care. Mr. Trump did not mention Mr. Sanders, but he predicted that Democrats would lose in 2020 because, he said, they are running on a socialist platform that will turn off most American voters.
Mr. Sanders has placed second in the 2020 Democratic race in most public opinion polls, behind former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. But if his rollout has not been seamless — three of his top consultants abruptly parted ways with his campaign just days after he announced he was entering the race — he has also demonstrated the power of the grass-roots movement he began building three years ago. In the first week of his candidacy, his campaign took in $10 million, and in a New Hampshire poll released this week, Mr. Sanders was the top choice.
As Mr. Sanders concluded his rally, his campaign announced that he would visit Iowa next week, with stops in Council Bluffs, Iowa City and Des Moines. His campaign has also said he would visit other early-nominating states in the coming weeks, including New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
Many supporters at the rally, a good number of whom were students, said that they had long been fans of Mr. Sanders and that they were excited to see him run for president a second time.
“Last election, we supported Bernie,” said Isabel Saffioti, 15. “We want to come out and support him again.” Standing beside her was her sister, Carmen, 19, a student at Brooklyn College, who said she was thrilled the senator had decided to start his campaign there. “I think it would be cool if he talked more about his roots,” she said.
Chris Huth, 19, said he liked Mr. Sanders because “he’s human.” But he also said that, though he supported the policies of “leftist people” like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, he had not decided yet whether he would vote for Mr. Sanders. “It’s still the beginning,” he said. “We’ll see.”
For the most part, the crowd was lively despite the chill. Before the rally, a snowman in a Bernie T-shirt became a popular photo companion. Speakers offered a playlist of songs with a theme of change: “Uprising” by Muse, “Revolution” by Flogging Molly.
But even as Mr. Sanders seemed ready to present more of himself to voters, some supporters suggested it was his unwavering commitment to policy that most endeared him to them.
“He’s been consistent since Day 1,” said Katie McCrudden, 23, who left her home in New Jersey at 7:30 a.m. to get to the rally in time. “His politics have not changed.”