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Huge Turnout at Bernie Sanders’ Santa Cruz Rally Spells Opportunity for Supporters and Others

On the heels of Hillary Clinton’s visit to Salinas, Bernie Sanders is in the middle of his own California tour.  The candidate for the Democratic nomination for President he held rallies in Santa Cruz and Monterey Tuesday.  

The streets leading to the Kaiser Permanente Arena in downtown Santa Cruz buzzed with energy from the long line of Bernie Sanders supporters, which stretched around the block.

On a nearby corner, Sage Conrick sold buttons and hats.  “I got Bernie gear.  I got ‘Talk Bernie to Me’ t-shirts,” said Conrick, a 17-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri.  He’s been following the Sanders campaign when his high schedule allows.

“Oh I’ve gone to Kentucky, Kansas, Florida. I like seeing his crowd. There’s a wide variety of people here, and I love seeing that,” said Conrick, who describes himself as more of an entrepreneur than a Sanders supporter.

The crowd of Sanders supporters spelled opportunity for lots of people. There was $27 parking across from the arena. A vendor with portable photo booth offered Bernie fans a chance to take a picture with a cardboard cutout of the candidate. And some people came to wave signs for unrelated local elections.

The huge crowd also meant opportunity for Sanders supporters.  Mary Graydon-Fontana hoped to reach independent voters with the sign around her neck that read, “No Party Preference Voters.  You can still vote for Bernie.”

“So what they need to do is they need to ask for a Democratic ballot.  They need to turn their No Party Preference ballot in,” said Graydon-Fontana who has been with the group Santa Cruz for Bernie since last summer. 

“I’m 70, and I have never been so excited about the campaign, so it’s not just the young people,” said Graydon-Fontana.

She’s hopeful the progressive movement started by Bernie Sanders will carry on after the election and seep into local politics.  It’s an idea echoed by Santa Cruz for Bernie volunteer Erik Eriksen.

“So now that we have the experience of organizing a candidate. We can elect new faces to our City Council that truly represent our progressive values,” Eriksen told the crowd.

The arena filled to capacity with more than two-thousand supporters and hundreds more still outside.    Watsonville Mayor Felipe Hernandez introduced Bernie Sanders, who got right down to the business of next week’s tight primary race against Hillary Clinton.

“And if there is a large turnout on June 7th here in California where 475 pledged delegates are at stake, we are going to win here in California,” said Sanders.

But he reminded the crowd, it’s really the super delegates who will ultimately decide who gets the Democratic nomination.  So he has a message for them.

“Given the system that we have, which is an absurd system, but it is the system.  I want you as the super delegates to take a hard look at which candidate and which campaign can beat Donald Trump,” said Sanders.

His ideas drew huge applause from tuition free college to demilitarizing the police and how the law treats drug addiction.  “What we have got to do is recognize is that addition and drug abuse are not criminal issues, but health issues,” said Sanders.

After the rally, high school Senior Amber McCormick said it all felt like common sense.  “It is really competitive, and you need a college education, so it just makes sense to have it be free,” she said.

Sanders swing through California continues Wednesday with rallies in Palo Alto and Davis.   Hillary Clinton returns to the state later this week.  

Krista joined KAZU in 2007. She is an award winning journalist with more than a decade of broadcast experience. Her stories have won regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and honors from the Northern California Radio and Television News Directors Association. Prior to working at KAZU, Krista reported in Sacramento for Capital Public Radio and at television stations in Iowa. Like KAZU listeners, Krista appreciates the in-depth, long form stories that are unique to public radio. She's pleased to continue that tradition in the Monterey Bay Area.