Thousands lined up in the drizzle at Seattle Center on Sunday to hear Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders bring his anti-billionaire message to Washington ahead of this week’s caucuses.
People started queuing up hours before the doors opened at KeyArena for the 5 p.m. rally. By midafternoon, the line coiled past the Space Needle and EMP Museum and along Fifth Avenue.
Sanders’ campaign staff said more than 10,300 people were inside the arena and 5,500 were outside. Sanders gave a short address to those outside shortly after 5 p.m., before speaking to the crowd inside. A big screen and loudspeakers were set up at the International Fountain to broadcast the rally outside.
Another 1,500 people outside left after the Vermont senator spoke to the outdoor crowd.
Never miss a local story.
The crowd inside the arena roared as Sanders hit his campaign themes of fixing a rigged economy and broken political system, providing health care for all and taxing Wall Street speculation to pay for free college tuition and cut student loan debt.
He praised Seattle for adopting a $15 minimum wage and called for that standard nationwide. He ended his hourlong speech with a call for record-breaking turnout in Saturday’s Democratic caucuses.
Inside and outside the arena, Sanders supporters, including many millennials, praised his blunt talk about a political revolution against a corporation-dominated political system.
“He says a lot of stuff that needs to be said that no one else is actually saying,” said Fiona Nightingale, 25, citing Sanders’ denunciations of income inequality.
Sanders’ Seattle event was part of a three-city swing through the state Sunday. Earlier, more than 7,500 people turned out to a high school in Vancouver for a Sanders rally.
He was scheduled for a nighttime speech in Spokane.
Sanders spent the past week in Arizona, and now is taking his campaign to 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.
Clinton now has a lead of more than 300 pledged delegates over Sanders from primaries and caucuses, so the Northwest has become important territory for him. Washington, Alaska and Hawaii have Democratic caucuses Saturday, and Washington has the most delegates ultimately at stake with 101.
Clinton plans her own visit Tuesday, including public events in Seattle and Everett and a private fundraiser in Medina at the home of Costco co-founder Jeff Brotman. She’ll get family help here too, as her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea Clinton, also are set to campaign in the state this week.
Washington’s Democratic caucuses will determine how the 101 delegates are divvied up between Sanders and Clinton. While Clinton holds a commanding lead in the delegate hunt, her campaign has downplayed expectations here, suggesting Sanders is likely to prevail in Washington’s caucuses.
The enthusiasm for Sanders echoed through KeyArena even before he arrived as speakers led the crowd in chants of “Feel the Bern.”
State Rep. Noel Frame, D-Seattle, stood with several pro-Sanders state legislators and urged the rally participants to turn some of their political energy to the Legislature, drawing boos when she told the crowd that Republicans, who control the state Senate, are close to taking a majority in the state House too.
“You know a political revolution doesn’t stop at the presidential level,” she said.
Inside and outside the arena, Sanders supporters said his frank talk about the system being rigged against ordinary Americans by corporate money led them to favor him over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Leslie Zukor, 31, of Mercer Island, held two Bernie Sanders puppets as she directed the line snaking through Seattle Center.
“I like his spirit and I like the fact that he will take on the drug companies,” Zukor said. Even after Obamacare, she said too many people remain without health insurance or are underinsured.
Like many Sanders supporters, Zukor said the senator had uniquely energized her about politics. But if it comes down to it, she said she’d have no problem voting for Clinton — especially with the prospect of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee.
“I don’t understand the ‘Bernie or bust’ movement,” she said.
Waiting in line for the rally with his 3-year-old daughter, Zoe, Alex Darrow agreed.
“I will probably end up voting for Hillary, but I like that he’s speaking the truth,” Darrow said. “I appreciate that in a politician.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.