Thousands lined up in the drizzle at Seattle Center on Sunday to hear Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders bring his anti-billionaire message to Washington ahead of this week’s caucuses.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders brought his message of a “political revolution” to a boisterous rally at Seattle’s KeyArena on Sunday, avoiding mention of Hillary Clinton — his rival in this week’s Democratic caucuses — while trashing Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
Taking the stage at 5:40 p.m. to deafening cheers, Sanders immediately launched into an attack on Trump, saying the U.S. will never elect someone “who insults Mexicans, who insults women, who insults African Americans.”
“If we stand together and we don’t allow the Trumps of the world to divide us up, there is nothing we cannot accomplish,” Sanders said. “This campaign has enthusiasm and the energy to carry us to victory, because we are doing something very unusual in American politics: We are telling the truth.”
Crowds lined up early in the drizzle at Seattle Center to hear Sanders’ anti-billionaire message. By midafternoon, the line coiled from the Space Needle and EMP Museum and along Fifth Avenue.
With many told the 17,000-seat arena had reached capacity, a big screen and loudspeakers were set up at the International Fountain.
KeyArena was not entirely full, however, as some upper-deck sections were left largely empty.
Seattle Center staff later estimated the crowd for the speech at 10,300 inside the arena, with 5,500 more outside. Another 1,500 left after Sanders briefly addressed the overflow crowd outside.
His audience included many millennials, who have flocked to the Sanders movement and voted for him in big numbers over Clinton.
“He says a lot of stuff that needs to be said that no one else is actually saying,” said Fiona Nightingale, 25, citing Sanders’ denunciations of income inequality.
In his hourlong stump speech, Sanders railed against the political establishment, calling the U.S. political system rigged by corporate interests against the common people. He vowed to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which has unleashed new gushes of money into elections from donors like the billionaire Koch brothers.
“That is not democracy, that is oligarchy. We do not accept that,” he said.
Sanders shied away from criticisms of Clinton but returned again and again to Republicans, accusing them of “cowardly” efforts to suppress voting by minorities and of dangerous folly for denying climate change.
He laid out a platform of free colleges, reduction of student debt and expanded Social Security benefits, paid for with taxes on billionaires and Wall Street speculation — though he did not get into specifics on the payment plan.
Sanders also gave policy shoutouts to liberal Seattle, saying the rest of the nation should follow the city in passing a $15 minimum wage and the state in legalizing marijuana.
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Backed by supporters who held up signs with names of African Americans killed by police, Sanders said while most officers are honest and hardworking, those who break the law “must be held accountable.”
The Seattle event was part of a three-city swing through the state on Sunday. Earlier, Sanders rallied thousands in Vancouver. Later, he spoke in Spokane.
Clinton will campaign in Washington on Tuesday, with a speech at the machinists union hall in Everett, as well as events in Puyallup and Seattle. She’s also scheduled for a private fundraiser at the home of Costco co-founder Jeff Brotman.
She’ll get family help here, too, as her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea Clinton, also are to campaign in the state this week.
Washington’s Democratic caucuses on Saturday will determine how 101 pledged delegates are divvied up between Sanders and Clinton.
That doesn’t include the state’s 17 so-called “superdelegates” — top Democratic elected leaders and party officials — who are unpledged and can back whomever they want. Most of the superdelegates here and nationally have said they support Clinton.
After a string of convincing wins, Clinton holds a commanding lead in the delegate hunt. But her campaign has downplayed expectations here, suggesting Sanders is likely to prevail in Saturday’s caucuses.
Alaska and Hawaii also hold Democratic caucuses Saturday, but Washington has the most delegates at stake.
The enthusiasm for Sanders echoed through KeyArena even before he arrived as speakers led the stomping crowd in chants of “Feel the Bern” and “This is what democracy looks like.”
Inside and outside the arena, Sanders supporters said his frank talk about the system being rigged against ordinary Americans by corporate money led them to favor him over Clinton — though some said they’d fall in line behind her if she is the Democratic nominee.
Volunteer Leslie Zukor, 31, of Mercer Island, held two Bernie Sanders puppets as she directed the line snaking through Seattle Center
“I like his spirit and I like the fact that he will take on the drug companies,” she said. Even after Obamacare, she said, too many don’t have health insurance or are underinsured.
Like many Sanders supporters, Zukor said the senator had uniquely energized her about politics. But if it comes down to it, she said she’d have no problem voting for Clinton — especially with the prospect of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee.
“I don’t understand the ‘Bernie or bust’ movement,” she said.
Waiting in line for the rally with his daughter Zoe, 3, Alex Darrow agreed.
“I will probably end up voting for Hillary, but I like that he’s speaking the truth,” Darrow said. “I appreciate that in a politician.”