A boisterous, youthful crowd filled the State Theatre in Portland on Wednesday to hear Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders rally supporters just days before the state’s caucuses.

In an hour-long speech, Sanders talked about the need for a higher minimum wage and limits on money in politics, called out Gov. Paul LePage for “beating up on poor people” and insisted that a large turnout Sunday at the Democratic presidential caucuses around the state would mean a win for his campaign.

“If we win Maine, we move another step forward toward a political revolution in this country,” the Vermont senator told the crowd of about 1,800. Some who came to the rally were turned away when the State Theatre reached capacity. Another 650 people watched a live stream of Sanders’ speech from an overflow area at The Westin Portland Harborview hotel.

Sanders’ visit to Maine came a day after a flurry of Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses in 11 states around the country. He won contests in four of those states: Oklahoma, Minnesota, Colorado and Vermont. But he fell farther behind front-runner Hillary Clinton, who expanded her overall lead in the race for delegates with wins in seven states: Texas, Massachusetts, Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee.

Clinton now has 1,052 delegates to Sanders’ 427, with 2,383 delegates needed to win the nomination. There are 30 Democratic delegates at stake in Maine.

Kate LeRoyer, 63, of Pownal wasn’t deterred by her candidate’s disappointing showing on Super Tuesday.


“He’s in it for the long haul,” said LeRoyer, who wore a Sanders T-shirt and campaign sticker on her winter hat. “I think he’s going to continue to gain momentum. I don’t want to give up on him.”


A line formed down Congress Street hours before the rally, which was scheduled to start at 1 p.m.

Amanda Rubino, 22, of Westbrook and Michael Defiore, 27, of Salem, Massachusetts, who got in line just after 8 a.m., said they haven’t been passionate about a candidate before this election.

“He’s a good man who you can trust,” said Defiore, who voted for Sanders in the Massachusetts primary Tuesday. “He’s been consistent in his views.”

Clusters of high school students, many of them too young to vote, skipped class to attend the rally, while Baxter Academy, a charter school in Portland, let 75 students go with their parents’ permission.


“I’m just really excited about what he’s saying about revolutionary ideas,” said Sophie Szatkowski, a 16-year-old student at Casco Bay High School in Portland.

People of all ages said Sanders was the first candidate they’ve been able to get behind in a while, or ever.

“You get tired of hearing negatives in politics,” said Jason Bersani, 44, a former Republican who has been volunteering for Sanders’ campaign in Augusta, where he lives.

Another Sanders supporter who had previously stayed out of politics is Jon Fishman, the drummer for the band Phish and a former Vermont resident who lives in Lincolnville. He joined a group of local musicians, The Kenya Hall Band, as they entertained and revved up the crowd, then helped introduce Sanders when he took the stage at 1:45 p.m.

“I can’t think of any other time in my life that I’ve been able to vote truly for someone I believe in and someone I love,” Fishman told the crowd.

Sanders recalled how he initially was considered a fringe candidate, and said he was excited to hear that pundits were still calling the race for Clinton.


“That means we’re probably going to win in a landslide,” he said, drawing a loud outburst of cheering and hollering from the crowd – a repeated occurrence throughout the rally.

He tends to fare better in primaries and caucuses with large voter turnouts, Sanders said, when middle-class and young people “come out in large numbers and demand that we create a government that works for all of us and not just the (wealthiest) 1 percent. If we have a large turnout here in Maine, we will win the state.”

Sanders spoke about the influence of money in politics, the high number of Americans in jails and the need to raise the minimum wage. “It is not a wild socialist idea to say if somebody works 40, 50 hours a week that person should not be living in poverty,” he said.

He also wants to make tuition free at public colleges and universities, and said he would do it by implementing a tax on Wall Street speculators.

During the recession, taxpayers bailed out the big banks, so “now it’s Wall Street’s time to help the middle class of this country,” he said.



Sanders talked about the income gap and politicians who blame welfare recipients for problems with the system, and got a big crowd reaction when he called out Gov. LePage.

“You have a governor here who likes to beat up on poor people, right?” he said.

Sanders said most polls show that he is the Democratic candidate best able to defeat Republican front-runner Donald Trump, whom he criticized for saying wages are too high, claiming climate change is a hoax and attacking immigrants.

“American people know in their hearts that love trumps hatred,” he said, concluding his speech and drawing cheers.

Filing out of the theater, attendees said they were moved by the rally. Blakey Bessire, 18, of Portland said people next to her were crying. “It was beautiful,” she said.

Logan Shifflett, 24, of Portland said before the rally that he had come to hear what Sanders had to say because he was unsure of whom he would support Sunday. Afterward, there was no question.

“My mind is made up. Absolutely, 100 percent,” he said.


Comments are no longer available on this story