Politics & Government

Bernie Sanders draws thousands to Raleigh rally

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders drew thousands of supporters to a rally in downtown Raleigh on Friday, four days before primary elections in North Carolina and four other states.

At least 1,000 people showed up who couldn’t get inside the 2,300-seat Memorial Auditorium, which was full. Sanders emerged on the steps of the venue and addressed the outside crowd before delivering his speech inside.

The attendees, an overwhelmingly young audience, never eased up on their cheering and chanting. And that was before Sanders even appeared on stage before a giant American flag and bleachers full of supporters.

“At the end of the day, love trumps hatred,” Sanders said at the conclusion of his hourlong speech. “On Tuesday, let’s have North Carolina help lead this country into a political revolution.”

The Vermont senator hit all his campaign notes – campaign finance reform, student debt, health care, war, pay equity and the environment among them – and emphasized women’s and minority issues. He met briefly before his speech with the African-American caucus of the N.C. Democratic Party, and with John Boyd Jr., a Virginia activist and founder of an advocacy group for black farmers. Afterward, Boyd endorsed him.

Caucus official Jaymes Powell Jr. said his group wasn’t making an endorsement but liked what Sanders had to say on most issues.

Amber Worley, a nursing student at Pitt Community College, said Sanders spoke to her needs.

“The way he looks at education, with tuition-free public college paid for by taxes – that is amazing,” she said. “I believe everybody trying to make their way up in the word deserves help to do that ... I’ve never trusted a politician but, honestly, I feel like I can trust Bernie.”

Faris Harton, wearing a VFW cap, said he is a Vietnam veteran, a member of a union and married to a teacher – all issues that Sanders has addressed.

“I’ve known who Bernie Sanders is for a long time,” Harton said. “He has a 35-year record of standing up for the right thing.”

Sanders was introduced by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, who last month stepped down as vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee to campaign for Sanders.

Sanders said he had a simple answer for skeptics who ask how he would pay for all his government-based social solutions: Place a tax on Wall Street speculators. That would bring in enough money to pay for free college tuition and lower student debt, he said.

The rally capped a week of visits to North Carolina by the Republican and Democratic presidential contenders, which continues Monday with Sen. Ted Cruz’s scheduled appearance in Fayetteville and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Charlotte.

While the presidential race could motivate voter turnout in North Carolina’s primary Tuesday, most of the national attention in Sanders’ race against Clinton has been on Florida and Ohio. On the Republican side, Sen. Marco Rubio is fighting to win his home state of Florida, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich is doing the same, both hoping to deprive front-runner Donald Trump of delegates.

Illinois and Missouri also hold primaries on Tuesday.

Sanders said his campaign has already proven early prognosticators wrong, and that the polls have shown he can win in the general election.

Five recent national polls show Sanders beating Trump. In North Carolina, however, a High Point University poll, released Friday, showed Clinton leading Sanders 58 percent to 34 percent among likely Democratic primary voters in North Carolina.

“If we can get a large voter turnout, if many, many people stand up and fight back and tell us that our government belongs to all of us and not a handful of campaign contributors – if that happens, we’re going to win here in North Carolina and other states as well,” he said.

Staff writer Evan Semones contributed.