ST. PAUL, Minnesota — The surging Bernie Sanders campaign approached their last days before Iowa caucuses the way the campaign began.
At two huge rallies in Minnesota on Tuesday, Sanders put his unlikely but so far unstoppable rise to top-tier Democratic contender on display. Before thousands of adoring fans, he railed against corporate power, corporate media, corporate leaders, and the political establishment at the top of his lungs, his voice growing hoarse. (Hours earlier he spoke in Duluth at that city’s entertainment and convention center.)
There were 10,000 people in the audience, according to the campaign. There were another 4,500 people in the overflow room, the campaign said. Duluth had 6,000 people in the audience. The St. Paul speech was vintage Sanders: an hour of wonky details about the woes of the economy, criminal justice system, criminal justice system, and overall political tenor of the age.
A Sanders campaign aide noted that Minnesota is a Super Tuesday state, making it one on the list of states choosing delegates March 1. One of Sanders’s highest profile endorsers is Rep. Keith Ellison, who represents a Minnesota district. Ellison was on hand during the Minnesota swing, introducing Sanders at both stops.
But the jaunt through Minnesota a week before caucus day gave Sanders an opportunity to return to the roots of his grassroots campaign.
Sanders gained steam through the summer with events like the one in St. Paul, packed with thousands of supporters who flocked to his stripped down public events, which featured little more than a lectern, an introductory speaker or two, and Sanders. Things are different for the Sanders campaign now — there is the chartered plane, the Sanders tour bus, the hundreds of campaign staff, and the flood of TV commercials filling Iowa airwaves — but his aides insist the candidate, and his message, is the same.
Sanders holds large events everywhere he goes, but the really huge events like the one in St. Paul have mostly fallen by the wayside in favor of multiple events with hundreds or or just over a thousand in the audience across the early states.
There was a retro feel in St. Paul, a step back to the earliest days of the campaign. There were even a smattering of the Black Lives Matter protests that disrupted his presidential campaign in its earliest days. (On Tuesday, they made noise but they didn’t stop Sanders from plowing through his stump speech.) The Iowa stuff from his recent stump speeches was gone in Minnesota, replaced by the old version of his campaign message.
These huge crowds were once unexpected, and only a harbinger of the year to come. A win in Iowa was almost unfathomable the first few times Sanders took the stage for his big rallies.
But the crowds stayed huge.
Back in Iowa Tuesday morning, Sanders cautioned his supporters not to expect too much from his Iowa operation, which he put together some months after Hillary Clinton.
But in St. Paul, before thousands, Sanders once again asked progressives to believe.