Sen. Bernie Sanders’ rally at the Phoenix Convention Center Tuesday night let many longtime Arizona residents see a hint of blue in a traditionally red state.
Even as the Vermont senator’s campaign lost more ground to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, The Arizona Republic reported that more than 7,000 attendees were “feeling the Bern” outside the downtown event’s center.
Many locals said Sanders is unlike any politician they had seen before.
“I’ve lived in Phoenix or Arizona my entire life and I’ve truly never seen this community come around and support a democratic candidate like they have been for Bernie,” Bill Hanley, 64, said. “This is the most excited I’ve ever been following an election, and it’s because the Bern has got me and I’d say that goes for a lot of this community.”
Sanders’ supporters were very quick to give their opinions on each of his policies and many had personal motives for supporting him.
“There are so many ways Bernie could improve the Arizona that I’ve grown up in,” Freda Chase, 47, said. “He’s huge on immigration, he’s positive, he has the right values on economics. Bernie also wants to keep jobs in the U.S. and that is something that my family was directly affected by.”
As a democratic socialist, Sanders is the most liberal candidate in the 2016 election, but he still drew support from conservatives or people who consider themselves Republican as evidenced by some of the rally’s attendees.
“I’m a registered Republican, but I see myself voting for Bernie in 2016 partly because who I was looking at on the Republican side and also because I think Bernie is going to be the best for Arizona,” longtime Phoenix resident Vince Dalke said.
The biggest issue that will be discussed approaching the Arizona primaries will be immigration, a topic that many candidates heavily disagree on. Republican front-runner Donald Trump, for example, has called for a border wall with Mexico and the deportation of the country’s millions of undocumented immigrants.
“I think that Bernie’s policies on immigration is the only one that takes into account that they’re actual people,” John Champlin said. “I think for most people viewing the immigrant problem, they look at it as this faceless horde of people. As someone who has lived here and worked with these people and made friends with these people, they’re real people who need help. I think the fact that he says this shouldn’t be this ugly of a mess and that we should simply have a conversation about it is the most real option. I think it’s the right track.”
Many of Sanders’ supporters said his trustworthiness and reliability brought them to his campaign.
“Bernie’s an honest man and he’s been an honest man his whole career,” Champlin said. “I’ve followed a lot of his career and I genuinely trust who he is because of his actions and his deeds, he has integrity he has a great moral compass and a lot of this has been lacking in American politics over the last several decades.”
At the end of his hour-long speech at the rally, Sanders told supporters to ensure turnout was high when the state votes in its presidential preference elections on March 22.
“We will win if the voter turnout is high,” he said. “Let’s make it high!”
Sanders suffered significant losses in the primaries held on Tuesday, according to multiple media outlets. Sanders lost big in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina and narrowly lost Illinois. As of Tuesday night, the race in Missouri was too close to call with Clinton clinging to a small lead.
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Correction March 16, 2015: Because of an oversight in plug-ins installed on a browser used to edit a previous version of this story, Donald Trump’s last name was unintentionally replaced with “Drumpf.” The story has been updated to reflect his correct last name.