A line tens of hundreds of people long zagged east to west Tuesday evening along Prexy’s Pasture on the University of Wyoming campus, all to see one person speak: Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
More than an hour before the event officially started, people were being turned away as the UW Arts and Sciences Auditorium reached its capacity of just fewer than 2,000. Members of local, state and national media also turned out to report on Sanders’ visit to the Gem City just days before Saturday’s Wyoming democratic county-level caucuses.
Sanders spoke for about 30 minutes on the stage of the auditorium, then moved outside, speaking to a crowd on the lawn for another 4-5 minutes. Most of his talk highlighted points made in previous speeches around the country, focusing on what he described as a corrupt campaign finance system, a corrupt criminal justice system, income inequality, expanding healthcare, global warming, as well as gender, race, religious and sexual orientation inequality.
The senator’s comments on Wyoming focused almost exclusively on rallying voters for Saturday’s caucus, as he tends to win with large turnouts. Sanders acknowledged Wyoming does not have a strong democratic voter base but said he thinks people could unite under certain issues, regardless of political views.
“There are differences between progressives and conservatives, but our job is to bring people together regardless of their political perspective,” Sanders said. “We must fight for an economy that works for all of us, and not just the few. That is what this campaign is about.”
Aimee Van Cleave, executive director of the Wyoming Democratic Party, said the attendance for the Sanders rally exceeded that of Bill Clinton’s rally Monday morning in Cheyenne, where he stumped for wife and democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
“For a Monday morning, (the Clinton rally) had a good turnout,” Van Cleave said. “But I’m not surprised that Albany County is supportive of Senator Sanders.”
Wyoming fits the traits of states where Sanders has been successful recently, with predominantly white, working class demographics, Van Cleave said. Sanders also tends to do better in states here the candidate is chosen by caucus rather than a primary vote, she said.
“I think (Saturday’s results) will depend on if his supporters turn out,” Van Cleave said. “If they do, I think he’ll do well.”
Sanders has won seven of his last eight caucuses.
Out of the state’s nine democratic lawmakers, Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, is the only one to endorse Sanders. He was the first to address the packed auditorium before Sanders took the stage.
Pelkey said Laramie was the logical place in Wyoming for Sanders to come because of its progressive politics. Pelkey said he expects Sanders to do well across the state.
“I often refer to this district as an island of blue in a sea of red,” he said. “Barack Obama won the state against Hillary (Clinton) in 2008 and I think we’ll see the same thing in 2016.”
University of Wyoming student Kyle Struna said he was not committed to supporting Sanders during Saturday’s caucus, but registered as a Democrat by the March 25 deadline because he was leaning in that direction.
“I’ve never been to a political rally before, so I thought I’d come experience it and see what he has to say,” Struna said.
Cheyenne residents Cally and Robby Turse came with their daughters Opal and Raya to support Sanders. They said it was worth the drive and standing in line in the cold wind to see the presidential hopeful.
“I’m just here to check out the out the most authentic and integral long-standing hopeful nominee we have,” Cally Turse said. “He’s going to beat Hillary (Clinton).”
UW student James Inwood stood outside with a picket sign along the line to get inside because he said he’s concerned about some of the democratic candidate’s policy positions. Though he thinks Sanders is “a nice guy who wants the best for people,” Inwood said policies such as Sander’s tax plan and approach to business would turn out badly for most people. He said the vast numbers that turned out to support Sanders on Tuesday wanted positive change, but didn’t understand the implications of Sanders’ ideas.
“I’m just worried this cause for positive change will mean negative change,” Inwood said. “A lot of these ideas don’t work out in practice.”
Sanders continues to trail Clinton in delegate counts, especially in super delegates, with which Clinton holds onto a commanding lead of more than 700 delegates. Since Wyoming has just 18 delegates — including four super delegates already committed to Clinton — a victory in the Cowboy State would be largely symbolic.
Before taking the stage, Sanders secured another meaningful victory in the Wisconsin primary, securing 45 delegates to Clinton’s 31.