Capacity crowd. Scores of young people. A raucous one-hour stump speech centered on economic inequality and creating a “political revolution” from the “bottom up.”
All of this in a place, Idaho Falls, known far more for its conservative politics than presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ Democratic socialism.
“When we began our campaign about 10 months ago, we were at 3 percent in the polls, about 70 points behind (Hillary Clinton). We had no political organization, we had no money — and I dare say not a whole lot of people in Idaho were Bernie Sanders supporters,” the Vermont senator told 3,200 in a full Skyline High School gymnasium.
“But we’ve come a long way,” he said to big cheers. “And we have a path toward victory that goes right through Idaho.”
The gymnasium was already nearly full more than an hour before Sanders was scheduled to speak. A line snaked around the parking lot, filled with people who had traveled from as far as Jackson, Wyo., and Twin Falls to see Sanders talk. About 150 were turned away when the gym filled.
Only a handful of people were visibly opposing Sanders’ visit, one with a “TRUMP” sign, another holding a sign that read “No Socialism.”
Sanders was preceded on the stage by Lee Juan Taylor, vice chairman of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, who said the candidate would look out for Idaho’s best environmental and wildlife interests, including the grizzly bear. Sanders was introduced by Sierra Sandison, Miss Idaho 2014 and a diabetic who backs Sanders because of his position on improving the U.S. health care system.
Health care was where Sanders started his speech. He took a dig at the Idaho Legislature, which he said for “ideological reasons” has thus far refused to expand Medicaid coverage to about 78,000 people in the state.
“Health care is a right of all people, not a privilege,” Sanders said. “It’s not something that’s radical. In fact, health care for all is something that exists in every other major country on Earth.”
Sanders said one of the primary reasons he thinks his campaign has gained traction, especially among young people, is what he called a “pretty radical idea” in American politics: “We are telling the truth.”
The crowd was a mix of ages, with a majority under 30. Dozens of Skyline students poured out of the gym and headed back to class after the rally.
“Younger people are the future of this country. The support that we are receiving tells me that the ideas that we are bringing forth … that this is what the future of America is about.”
Sanders was joined by his wife, Jane O’Meara. He visited Arizona on Thursday, then headed to Utah Friday.
Despite his massive crowds , Sanders trails far behind Clinton in the delegate count, 856 to 1,614. A recent poll said he was slightly favored over Clinton in Idaho, where 27 delegates are up for grabs.
Even in conservative Idaho, he said, many people could come to agree on topics such as reforming the campaign finance system or the wealth income gap, where top 1 percent has approximately the same amount of wealth as the bottom 90 percent.
“I think sometimes the divisions may not be as deep as we make out,” he said.
Monday, Sanders heads to Boise
Sen. Bernie Sanders will hold a rally Monday at Taco Bell Arena. Doors will open at 9 a.m.
The rally is free to the public, but attendees are asked to RSVP. The campaign asks that people not bring bags, weapons, sharp objects, chairs or signs or banners on sticks.
There’s no sign yet that rival Hillary Clinton plans an Idaho campaign stop.