With an eye on Wisconsin's Tuesday primary, Bernie Sanders told state Democratic Party officials Saturday night that his campaign and its fundraising methods -- not Hillary Clinton's -- represent the future of the party.
"We have received over six million individual campaign contributions averaging 27 dollars apiece -- I believe that is the future of the Democratic Party," Sanders told attendees at the Wisconsin Democratic Founders Day Gala at Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee.
The Vermont senator added, "I believe that we have got to tell Wall Street and the drug companies and the fossil fuel industry and all of the big money interests, 'Sorry we are not on your side, we don’t want your money.'"
Sanders and Clinton have traded barbs over her campaign’s contributions from the fossil fuel industry, following a Clinton campaign event last Thursday during which an environmental activist asked the presidential candidate about such donations. "I am so sick -- I am so sick of the Sanders campaign lying about me. I am sick of it,” Clinton told the activist in an exchange which was caught on video.
Sanders claims his Democratic rival relies “heavily” on money from oil and gas lobbyists.
Throughout this election cycle, Sanders has used state party dinners, like the one Saturday night, to make his case as to why party officials should mobilize around him instead of Clinton. In addition to his small-donor fundraising model, Sanders stressed the energy and enthusiasm around his grassroots volunteers and the overwhelming backing his campaign enjoys among younger voters.
"There is one campaign which has created an enormous amount of excitement and enthusiasm, and that is our campaign,” Sanders said. “For the Democratic Party to succeed we need a vibrancy and we need an energy and we need a level of grassroots activism that we do not have at this moment.”
While Sanders continues to trail Clinton in pledged delegates awarded by state primaries and caucuses, the bulk of his overall delegate deficit comes from the so-called super-delegates, consisting of elected officials and party leaders.
Sanders also claimed he is better equipped to take on GOP front-runner Donald Trump in a general election.
"We have got to do everything in our power to make sure that Donald Trump or some other Republican does not become president of the United States,” he said. "I happen to believe, based on all of the polling I have seen, and on other factors, that I am the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump. “
Sanders said the aforementioned declaration was not based on any “disrespect for Secretary Clinton,” but claimed it was based on head-to-head polling against Trump.