As more moderate Democrats dropped by the wayside and began consolidating behind former Vice President Joe Biden, liberal populist Bernie Sanders didn’t lose a beat as thousands of fervent supporters ready for a political revolution flocked to his Salt Lake City rally a day before Super Tuesday’s high-stakes primary.
Utah joins 13 other states in Tuesday’s election, where a third of delegates will be decided. Sanders is the front-runner in the race and unless Biden’s convincing weekend win in South Carolina shows signs of resonating elsewhere, the Vermont independent will be tough to stop on his way to the Democratic nomination.
He delivered his well-rehearsed policy lines Monday to rapturous applause at Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City, promising systemic reform on every front — from climate change to immigration, from health care to criminal justice.
“Our administration will stand up to the corporate elites,” he told a crowd of about 5,800 people. “We’re going to stand up to Wall Street. We’re going to stand up to the corruption of the drug companies. We’re going to stand up to the insurance companies. We’re going to stand up to the fossil fuel industry. We’re going to stand up to the military industrial complex. We’re going to stand up to the prison industrial complex.”
If elected, Sanders said he would fight to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, increase taxes on the wealthy and implement a single-payer health care system. He also promised to enact universal background checks on guns, end the sale and distribution of assault weapons and sign an executive order legalizing marijuana across the nation.
And while some moderate Democrats have worried the candidate is too far left to win in November, Sanders argued he has the broadest coalition needed to triumph over President Donald Trump, whom he described as the “most dangerous president in the modern history of this country.”
“We are going to defeat Trump,” Sanders pledged. “Because while Trump is trying to divide our people up based on the color of their skin or their religion or where they were born or their sexual orientation, we are going to bring our people together around an agenda that works for all — not just the 1%.”
The Trump campaign shot back at Sanders on Monday, arguing in a statement that his “complete embrace of socialism is entirely at odds with the desires of voters in Utah.”
“As President Trump continues to deliver on his promises to provide more jobs, fairer trade deals, and lower taxes, Utahns know that Sanders’ half-baked socialist schemes would be disastrous for their state and undo all progress they’ve enjoyed,” the statement concluded.
Sanders enjoyed overwhelming support from Beehive State Democrats during his 2016 bid for president, pulling in nearly 80% of the ballots. And he urged those at the rally Monday to ensure a repeat of that success, asking them to encourage their friends, family and co-workers to vote.
“Let’s win here in Utah. Let us win the Democratic nomination. Let us defeat Trump. And let us transform this country,” he said as he closed his speech.
This is Sanders’ first visit to Utah this cycle, although he visited twice during his campaign four years ago. In 2016, the Vermont senator drew 14,000 people to a rally at This Is the Place Heritage Park — and returned four days later for a second sellout event at West High School to accommodate the hundreds who were turned away from the first.
Polls show Sanders, who has so far racked up the most delegates in the nation’s first contests, is on the path to take Utah again in the primary.
A Salt Lake Tribune/Suffolk University poll from January had Sanders with 26.5% of the vote, with double digits ahead of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden. And a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll published Friday had Sanders with 28%, the other candidates trailing behind in a close contest for second place.
The 78-year-old has also done well with campaign contributions in the state, pulling about $728,000 from Utahns so far this cycle and far outraising Trump, who has raised $463,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Abhi Harikumar, a 21-year-old University of Utah student who attended the rally Monday, said he originally planned to support Warren but ultimately felt Sanders was stronger on foreign policy, with the most “comprehensive anti-imperialist, anti-interventionist policies" of anyone in the race.
A Sanders administration, Harikumar continued, would also put climate at the forefront and guarantee workers’ rights, the autonomy of indigenous groups and those who have historically been marginalized.
“I’m glad that Bernie is one, not only anti-establishment but two, going to secure the rights of people who are outside the establishment,” he said.
Seren Gale-Jackson, a South Ogden resident who voted for Sanders in the 2016 primary and made the drive to Salt Lake City with her four young children for the rally Monday, said she’s drawn to the candidate’s vocal support for a single-payer health care system.
“I had cancer and it was astronomical how much it cost even with insurance,” said Gale-Jackson, 40, as she watched her children play from a blanket in a patch of dry grass toward the back of the Fairpark. “You shouldn’t have to choose between possibly declaring bankruptcy and feeding your kids and that’s where I was. And so the fact that he believes in that is huge for me.”
During the rally, Sanders said he sees health care for all as a “human right, not a privilege.”
For decades, Utah rarely saw presidential candidates because its primaries or caucuses were late in the process — often after winners were determined. But the Beehive State has seen an increase in attention this year since legislative leaders moved this year’s primary up to Super Tuesday, when 14 states will vote and choose about a third of Democratic delegates.
Democrats Pete Buttigieg, who dropped out of the race Sunday evening, and Tulsi Gabbard also have visited in recent weeks, and Biden and Warren brought their campaigns to the state earlier in the cycle. Candidate Amy Klobuchar also campaigned in Salt Lake City on Monday before ending her campaign a few hours later.
Those departures leave Sanders and Warren to battle for more liberal Democratic votes while Biden and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has poured millions into the race, fight over the moderate vote.