They came to Palo Alto to chant, to cheer, to wave signs, and to experience the rare thrill of seeing their state play a relevant role in a presidential election.
And even after standing for several hours on a synthetic turf at Cubberley Community Center on an unusually hot day, many left the center more energized and thrilled than when they came in. Despite a scorching afternoon, supporters came to "feel the Bern" and to cheer their favored presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, just days before the crucial Democratic primary on June 7.
Though most polls show his main Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, enjoying a slight and narrowing lead, Sanders argued in front of a crowd of more than 2,000 supporters that his campaign is most suited to ensuring that a "walking disaster" like the Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump does not win the White House in November.
In a speech that was regularly punctuated by chants of "Bernie!," the veteran Senator from Vermont rattled off the talking points that by now have become well familiar to his supporters in California and across the country: America suffers from a "corrupt" campaign-finance system that undermines democracy; a "rigged economy" where only the rich get richer; and a failed war on drugs that is leading to mass incarceration, particularly of minorities.
He talked about the need to "demilitarize" local police departments, to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, to overturn Citizens United, to promote gender equality and equal pay, to introduce universal health care and tuition-free college education (to be paid for by a tax on Wall Street speculation); to create a path toward citizenship for undocumented immigrants; and to transition America's energy from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal.
Sporting a yellow Golden State Warriors cap, Sanders also emphasized that his campaign is very much alive and that he offers his party the best shot at defeating Trump in November. Though newspapers like the New York Times have said the "campaign is over," Sanders said, the fact that Hillary and Bill Clinton are both now racing to California to campaign before the primary, suggests that the campaign is far from over.
Sanders used portions of his speech to differentiate himself from Clinton and marveled at the superdelegates who pledged their support to Clinton before any other Democrat was in the race (a decision he called "pretty absurd").
While Clinton has faced criticism for the support she has received from major financial institutions, Sanders stressed the fact that his campaign is funded by millions of individual contributions, the average of them $27.
"Our job is to take on Wall Street, not take their money," Sanders said.
One cause for his campaign's optimism, Sanders said, is the high support he has been receiving from people younger than 45, a demographic that was disproportionately well-represented at the Palo Alto rally.
"Our message in this campaign is of creating a nation and a vision based on social justice economic justice, racial justice, and environmental justice -- that whether Donald Trump likes it or not, whether Hillary Clinton likes it or not, that is the future vision of this country," Sanders said.
But while he made numerous allusions to Clinton, he saved his strongest criticism for Trump, whom he sarcastically mocked as "one of the world's great scientists." If Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, he told the crowd, "Donald Trump is toast."
"No way does Donald Trump become the elected president if we are the campaign to oppose him," Sanders said, pointing to polls showing him leading Trump by a significant margin in a nationwide election (Clinton also leads Trump, though by a slimmer margin. A Wednesday poll from Quinnipiac University shows Clinton defeating Trump by 4 percent and Sanders winning by 9 percent).
This will particularly be true, he said, if the voter turnout is high. If people come out and vote in great numbers, they will not only give the Democrats a lift in the presidential race, they would also allow them to retake Congress and win governorships throughout the country, Sanders said.
"Republicans win national elections when people are demoralized, when they give up on politics and when voter turnout is low," Sanders said. "Progressives and Democrats win elections when people are energized, when they are prepared to stand up and fight and transform America."
There is no objective observer, Sanders said, who can deny that it is "our campaign that has the energy, that has the momentum that will result in high voter turnout in November."
"The only way we transform this country and make our nation become the country we know it can become is when millions of people from coast to coast stand up in a political revolution and believe it creates a government that works for all of us, not just the 1 percent," Sanders said. "That is what this campaign is all about."
Sanders' swing through Palo Alto was part of his busy week in California, a reliably Democratic state with 475 delegates up for grabs. Though he didn't offer any new policies and stayed true to his familiar script, Sanders received a raucous reception from the gathered crowd, with many poster-wielding supporters swarming toward him after the speech to snap a photo or shake his hand.
Many others beamed in excitement made their way off Cubberley's hot turf and proceeded toward the exits. Genevieve Oliveira and Anna Stahlman, who came from San Jose to see Sanders, praised him for his authentic delivery.
"He's very comfortable He just says what he thinks," said Oliveira, 22.
Stahlman, 22, concurred and called Sanders "very relatable."
"It feels like he wants to be your friend," Stahlman said.
Bob Swift, 86, said that win or lose on June 7, Sanders can already claim a victory because he has succeeded in changing the conversation about money in politics. Though Swift said he has heard the talking points before, watching him speak was "incredible."
Jan Tiura, 67, agreed.
"We got our money's worth," Tiura said.
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