Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders took his campaign to Rochester on Saturday night, urging a crowd of 2,600 people to do all they can to get supporters to caucus for him on Tuesday night.
"Minnesota can play a profound and important role in moving this country forward toward a political revolution on Tuesday," Sanders said.
The Vermont senator that if Super Tuesday turnout is high in Minnesota, "we will win." But if voters sit out the caucuses, a campaign victory will be difficult.
"Our job, and I ask you to do this, is to work as hard as you can," Sanders told those gathered in Mayo Civic Center's Exhibit Hall.
Sanders' visit to Rochester came the same night his campaign suffered a major loss in the South Carolina primary to his Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Sanders campaign has made Minnesota a priority in the lead-up to Super Tuesday. Sanders headlined a rally in Hibbing on Friday and returned to the state Saturday night for the Rochester rally.
Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign is making its own push to win over local voters. Chelsea Clinton, Hillary Clinton's daughter, will join 1st District DFL Rep. Tim Walz in stumping for her mother during a Rochester campaign stop on Sunday evening.
The Sanders rally began with Rochester DFL Rep. Tina Liebling asking the sign-waving crowd, "Can you feel the Bern?" She praised Sanders' support for universal health care and tuition-free college and took some swipes at Clinton.
"Hillary Clinton told us she won't push for universal health care because it would start another big, national, divisive debate, and she doesn't want that," Liebling said, drawing loud boos from the audience. "Well what rock has she been hiding under?"
During his one-hour speech, Sanders reiterated many of the core tenets of his candidacy. The self-described Democratic socialist said the nation's wealthiest 1 percent continue to see their incomes climb while working class families struggle.
"Truth is that the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage. The truth is millions of people in this country are working 40 or 50 hours a week, and they are still not earning enough money to take care of their families," Sanders said.
If elected, he pledged he would fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
Sanders also said students should not be dealing with $50,000 or $100,000 in student loan debts just to get a college education. If elected, he said he would support tuition-free public colleges and universities and fund it with a tax on Wall Street speculation.
"If Congress could bail out the crooks on Wall Street, then you know what? It's time for Wall Street now to help the middle class of this country, he said.
Sanders said he would also fight for equal pay for women, criminal justice reform and single-payer health care. He told the crowd it's also time to pass comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizens, winning big applause from the crowd. While Republicans are seeking to defund Planned Parenthood, Sanders said he would push to expand the organization's funding.
Among those cheering on Sanders in the crowd was Mary Sirian Peterson. The 50-year-old Rochester nurse said she likes Sanders' plan for universal health care and wanted the chance to see the presidential hopeful for herself.
"He doesn't have the baggage that Hillary Clinton has. He seems very pure in his belief of helping the everyday American," she said.
Sanders supporters fired up
Sanders supporters lined up outside the Mayo Civic Center five hours before the rally started in hopes of getting a good view. Among the first people in line was Arielle Solberg, who traveled from the Twin Cities with a group of friends to Rochester. The 26-year-old said Sanders reminds her of the late DFL Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash in 2002. She said Sanders seems honest and trustworthy.
"He's got a clean record. He has been saying the same thing since he was in college," she said.
Also waiting in line to see Sanders this afternoon was R.C. Romo. The Faribault resident said he jumped at the chance to see the Democratic presidential candidate in person. Sanders inspired him to donate and he plans to attend his very first caucus on Tuesday.
Romo, 26, works for an artisan cheese company and said he likes how Sanders talks about "Wall Street is out of control, breaking up the big banks, raising minimum wage and equality for everyone."
Tristan Voegeli brought his dad, Dwayne Voegeli, to the Rochester rally. Tristan, 18, volunteered for Sanders for a month in January in New Hampshire. The St. Olaf College student said he likes that Sanders doesn't take money from big corporations and lobbyists.
"He's just a politician whose sole purpose is to represent the people. A lot of times when he's talking, he uses 'we' instead of 'I' because he knows the campaign is about a lot more than himself. It's about the people he's representing," Voegeli said.
His dad said he didn't need any convincing to come see Sanders. The Winona social studies teacher said he's inspired by Sanders. In particular, the 48-year-old father likes Sanders' support for single-payer health care, free college and publicly funded elections.
Dwayne added, "It's been a long time since I've seen a politician at the national level that I can be excited about."