ELECTION

Sanders’ West Coast campaign makes key stops in Washington

Mar 20, 2016, 7:36 PM | Updated: 11:29 pm

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks Sunday, March 20, 2016, at a ca...

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks Sunday, March 20, 2016, at a campaign rally in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

(AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — More than 7,500 people turned out to a high school in Vancouver, Washington and another 10,300 showed up at an arena in Seattle on Sunday for Bernie Sanders rallies, two of three taking place in the state that day.

The Vermont senator spent the past week in Arizona, and now is taking his campaign to Washington and other West Coast states that he hopes will help him make up ground after a solid delegate lead built up by Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

“Let us have a record-breaking turnout here in Washington,” Sanders said at KeyArena in Seattle, rallying supporters with many familiar themes.

Clinton has a lead of more than 300 delegates over Sanders from primaries and caucuses following a sweep of five states last Tuesday, so the Pacific Northwest has become important territory for him. Washington state, Alaska and Hawaii hold Democratic caucuses on Saturday, and Washington has the most delegates ultimately at stake with 101.

In Vancouver, Sanders declared to a packed gymnasium that the nation’s economic, campaign finance and criminal justice systems are “rigged” and criticized pharmaceutical companies for rising drug costs.

What riled up the young, rowdy crowd most were Sanders’ comments on health care and his support of gay marriage.

“Ten years ago, if somebody jumped up and said, ‘I think that gay marriage will be legal in 50 states in America in the year 2015,’ the person next to them would’ve said ‘You are nuts, what are you smoking?'” Sanders said.

In Seattle, Sanders applauded the city’s move to incrementally phase in a $15-an-hour minimum wage by 2017 that took effect in April 2015.

Lines outside the stadium were huge before the event, and according to Seattle officials, 5,500 people remained outside during Sanders’ speech and another 1,500 left when they didn’t make it into the stadium. Sanders addressed the overflow crowd outside before his official remarks. Some in line said they had arrived at around 10:30 a.m. for the rally that began around 5:40 p.m.

Inside the arena, Sanders pledged to make it easier for people to vote. He elicited huge roars when addressing a number of issues such as racial justice, his intent to implement universal health care and fight climate change.

“In my view we have a moral responsibility to leave this planet to our children and grandchildren in a way that is healthy and habitable,” said.

Washington is reliably Democratic when it comes to presidential elections. It hasn’t gone for a Republican candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Vancouver, which has a population of 167,000, has been historically overlooked during presidential campaigns.

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Orenstein contributed from Seattle.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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