TACOMA, Wash. -- Bernie Sanders rallied thousands of supporters in Washington state three weeks ahead of its presidential primary, calling for the grassroots movement that led to his win in the state’s 2016 caucuses to continue through the broader primary that takes place March 10.
“We may not have billions of dollars to throw around, but we have hundreds of thousands of people in every state in this country knocking on doors,” he said. “And that’s why we’re going to win here in Washington and why we’re going to win all over this country.”
Supporters packed the Tacoma Dome and chanted Sanders’ name as he appeared on stage after being introduced by U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Seattle Democrat who is chairing his Washington state campaign. The Tacoma Dome holds about 23,000 people, and the campaign said more than 17,000 people were in attendance. Also speaking at the rally was actor Tim Robbins, who told the crowd “Bernie Sanders is the one who can unite us.”
Sanders told the crowd that he believes President Donald Trump can be defeated because “there are fundamental problems in this county that must be addressed,” he said, citing income inequality, student debt and health care.
He also called out fellow Democratic candidate and billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising.
“We are a democracy, not an oligarchy,” Sanders said. “You’re not going to buy this election.”
The Vermont senator’s visit came on the heels of his win in the New Hampshire primary and just three weeks ahead of Democrats casting their ballots in the state presidential primary. The state party will use the primary for the first time to allocate delegates to candidates, with 89 delegates to be awarded based on the results.
Supporters lined up hours ahead of the evening rally. Cali Randall, an 18-year-old high school senior from Tacoma, arrived with two friends and was carrying a #Babes4Bernie sign. Randall was excited to be voting in her first presidential election, and to start with a vote for Sanders in the presidential primary.
“Bernie has a movement behind him,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Sanders spoke at a rally in Richmond, California. The state — which offers more delegates than any other state — is among the more than dozen states where voters will cast their ballots on so-called Super Tuesday, March 3. Two contests come before Super Tuesday — caucuses in Nevada on Saturday and a primary in South Carolina on Feb. 29.
Last year, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a measure moving the state’s presidential primary from May to the second Tuesday in March. The move was an effort to involve more voters and make Washington more relevant during the national delegate chase. And while Republicans had previously used the primary to allocate delegates, this is the first year in which both parties will use the results of the primary instead of the caucuses.
The state Democratic Party’s central committee voted last year to start using a hybrid system that utilizes the state’s vote-by-mail system for a presidential primary to apportion delegates to candidates, and caucuses and conventions to select which delegates will represent the state at the national convention in Milwaukee.
About 230,000 Washington Democrats turned out to caucus across the state in March 2016, while 1.4 million cast a ballot in the May presidential primary. Sanders handily won the caucuses, but Hillary Clinton, who went on to become the Democratic nominee, won the non-binding Democratic primary in Washington that year. Of the 1.4 million ballots cast, more than 802,000 ballots were cast by Democrats, even though their vote didn’t count.
With the change by the state party, a much broader Democratic electorate will be involved this year in deciding the winner of the state. Ballots will be mailed to the state’s nearly 4.5 million registered voters on Friday.
Washington state has no party registration but since 2008, the presidential primary requires voters to attest to being either Republican or Democrat.
Eight candidates remain in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, who placed fourth in the New Hampshire primary, has scheduled a rally in Seattle for Saturday.
Erik Butler, 49, traveled to the rally with his 12-year-old son Bryce, from nearby Gig Harbor.
Butler said he also likes Warren, but said he has decided to cast his vote for Sanders.
“At the end of the day he’s been consistent in his vision,” Butler said. “I really applaud that.”