By Erica Jones
Last Wednesday in Portland, Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders hosted a rally at the State Theatre. The event was announced Tuesday morning in advance of the Democratic state caucuses on Sunday, March 6th, when registered Democrats in Maine will choose their 2016 candidate.
Despite the rally being short-notice, nearly 1,800 people gathered to hear Sanders speak, with so many supporters vying for a spot in the venue that many people had to be turned away.
This was not Sander’s first campaign event in Portland. In July of last year, he spoke to 9,000 supporters at Cross Insurance Arena, and since then Mainers have been waiting for a return visit.
A line quickly wrapped around Congress Street on Wednesday morning as people from across the state, and some from across state lines, convened outside the State Theatre, some waiting for hours in the rain, some skipping class or leaving work early for a chance to get a seat at the rally.
The rally took place the day after Super Tuesday, where Sanders won four state primaries in Minnesota, Vermont, Oklahoma and Colorado. Hillary Clinton, Sanders’ Democratic candidate competition, took away seven states on Super Tuesday: Texas, Massachusetts, Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee. But that doesn’t worry Sanders or his passionate fans.
Sanders spoke for an hour to a packed house on the need for prison reform, a higher minimum wage and a new healthcare system. He condemned corporate money in politics, the US’s rigged economy and Maine’s governor Paul LePage for “beating up on poor people.”
He also jabbed at Clinton for accepting campaign donations from “weirdo billionaires,” eliciting cheers and laughter from the zealous crowd, in reference to the millions of dollars received by Clinton’s campaign from large corporations and Wall Street. In contrast, Sanders does not have his own Super PAC and funds his campaign with mostly individual donations.
During his speech, Sanders also urged people to go out and caucus this Sunday. The larger the voter turnout, he said, the better his numbers fared in primaries and caucuses.
“If we have a large turnout here in Maine, we will win the state,” he asserted, earning another round of applause.
The Sanders’ campaign’s momentum is steady, with polls showing the gap closing between him and Clinton, and Mainers at the rally were certainly optimistic about his chances.
“Bernie did a wonderful job of expressing that this election isn’t over until it’s over and you could tell he’s really enthusiastic about the upcoming primaries,” said Ryan R. Gallop, a USM student and Bernie supporter who attended the rally. “As someone who has been helping with the campaign for several months, it was great to get a little pep talk from the man himself today and I left feeling re-energized to continue volunteering my time for the campaign.”
And the biggest take-away from the rally, according to Gallop: “That the Sanders campaign has a lot of fight left in it still despite what the corporate media wants us to believe.”
Sanders wasn’t the only presidential hopeful to stop by Portland this week. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made headlines and also gathered a crowd of over 200 protesters outside the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel, where he spoke and was interrupted several times by protesters. The atmosphere at Trump’s event was incontrovertibly different from Sanders’.
“I was unable to get the feel of the State Theater but felt a widespread love and support for Bernie through standing in line and the amount of applause and chants from people,” said Kara Rowley, a junior USM student who, along with 650 others watched a live stream of Sanders’ speech from the Westin.
Love is an element very prominent in Sanders’ message. Closing his speech, he told the crowd, “American people know in their hearts that love trumps hatred,” drawing another roar of approval from the crowd. People were visibly moved as the venue emptied.
Chris Williams, a USM student, was at first not sure what to expect at the event. “I had never been to a rally before, and this is the first year I’ve ever gotten involved during the primary. The atmosphere was great, it was like being a concert. Everyone was so happy, and the moment Bernie appeared on stage it was as if everyone lost their breath for a moment.”