Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at the Polk County Democrats Steak Fry, in Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Sanders heading to Warren's native state for Comanche event

September 22, 2019 - 7:50 pm

LAWTON, Okla. (AP) — Bernie Sanders campaigned Sunday in reliably Republican Oklahoma with an appearance before the largest annual gathering of the Comanche Nation in the state where rival Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren was born.

Sanders' visit may remind some of a sensitive subject for Warren, still criticized after her October release of a DNA test meant to bolster her claim to Native American heritage. That was supposed to rebut President Donald Trump's mocking of the Massachusetts senator as "Pocahontas," but only intensified it.

Last month, Warren offered a public apology to Native Americans, trying to show that the issue won't be a political drag on her White House campaign, which polls show on the rise lately.

The Comanches, who are holding their 28th annual Nation Fair Powwow, are a Plains Indian tribe of about 17,000 enrolled members, with headquarters just north of Lawton, in southwest Oklahoma. Powwows are important social events for many tribes, featuring traditional dance, songs, food, regalia and other customs, and Sunday's was held at the tribe's headquarters in the foothills of the Wichita Mountains.

Sanders, a Vermont senator, won Oklahoma's 2016 Democratic primary over Hillary Clinton. The state votes next year as part of the earlier and expanded "Super Tuesday," which comes on March 3 and includes neighboring Texas.

University of Oklahoma political science professor Keith Gaddie said Sanders' powwow visit was unusual because the tribe, while well-known, is not a particularly large Native American nation.

"There's no reason, in order to win the state, that you'd have to go down to that event," Gaddie said.

Warren has made her family's down-home, financial struggles after her father had a heart attack and couldn't work — forcing her mother to get a minimum wage job — a central theme of her campaign. She and Sanders are friends who agree on many policy issues, including the "Medicare for All" universal health insurance plan.

Both also have refused to attack one another politically, ducking questions about whether they eventually will have to compete for the Democratic Party's most liberal wing. But a Des Moines Register-CNN-Mediacom poll released Saturday showed Warren outpacing Sanders in Iowa, which launches the 2020 Democratic nominating contest on Feb. 3, and running about even with former Vice President Joe Biden, who had been the crowded field's front runner.

Stephanie Landeros, a Comanche Indian from nearby Apache, said she felt proud Sanders picked a Native American event near her hometown.

"I don't think we've ever seen a presidential candidate here," Landeros said. "Oklahoma, sure, but never the Comanche Nation Fair."

Landeros said she supports Sanders because of his position on issues that are important to her, like civil rights, protecting the environment and programs for the poor.

"He seems to be someone who is concerned about minorities."

Sanders also attended a rally at the University of Oklahoma before speaking at the powwow.

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Weissert reported from Washington.