SANTA FE – Sen. Bernie Sanders made a fiery appeal Friday to Democratic voters in New Mexico to help boost his campaign’s momentum going the final round of state primaries, acknowledging he will need to win “almost all” of the remaining contests.
Sanders kicked off a two-day campaign swing through heavily Hispanic New Mexico with a trio of public rallies that started Friday ahead of the state’s vote in the final round of primary elections.
He vowed to take his fight for the nomination to the Democrats’ national convention this summer, and railed against superdelegates that backed Clinton before primary votes were cast.
“We need to go into the Democratic convention in late July with great momentum,” he told a cheering crowd of 2,500 people in a packed community college gymnasium in Santa Fe. “We need to win all or almost all of the states that are up on June 7.”
Sanders took the stage at a political rally Friday in Santa Fe to chants in Spanish of, “Yes, you can.” Native American singers warmed up the crowd and supporters waved pro-Sanders signs overhead. Doors were closed with 600 people still in line outside.
“New Mexico wants a government that represents all of us, not just the 1 percent,” Sanders said.
His next stop was Albuquerque for an event Friday evening.
On Saturday, he’ll stop in the town of Vado, not far from where the borders of New Mexico, Texas and Mexico intersect.
Sanders and Hillary Clinton are chasing a share of New Mexico’s 43 delegate votes. Five out of nine state superdelegates have expressed their commitment to Clinton, with the remainder uncommitted.
Sanders is coming off a primary victory Tuesday in Oregon and a near tie in Kentucky, but he still has no clear path to victory in the delegate count.
The Vermont senator is the first presidential candidate to visit New Mexico. Donald Trump on Thursday announced plans to visit early next week, overlapping with a scheduled visit by Bill Clinton to campaign on behalf of his wife in the cities of Espanola and later Albuquerque.
The state is shaping up as a proving ground for appeal to Hispanic voters. Over 45 percent of New Mexico residents identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino – a higher percentage than white.
In Albuquerque, thousands of people lined up downtown late Friday afternoon for the chance to see Sanders as vendors took advantage of the crowds to sell buttons and T-shirts bearing the senator’s resemblance.
The line wrapped around the city’s convention center and down the block. Some held signs that read “Feel the Bern” and “Dissent is patriotic.” Hours before his scheduled speech they chanted “Bernie!”
On Saturday, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar plans to tour the heavily Democratic northern end of the state for an initiative dubbed “Hispanics for Hillary.”
Albuquerque-based pollster Brian Sanderoff says at least half of Democratic primary voters in the state will be Hispanic, a demographic where Hillary appears to hold an edge.
State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, is helping Sanders drum up support among Latinos but acknowledges it’s an uphill climb.
“I think they’re getting more and more curious about Sanders,” he said. “He comes from such a small New England state with such a tiny Hispanic population. People just don’t know his name.”
Beyond New Mexico, the tone in both Democratic campaigns has grown more acrimonious after last weekend’s fracas at the Nevada Democratic Convention. A group of Sanders supporters lashed out over rules they claimed favored Clinton by shouting obscenities, brandishing chairs and threatening the state party chairwoman.
Sanders has defiantly asserted since then that his supporters were treated unfairly, as he has sharpened his critique of the Democratic Party and Clinton’s reliance on wealthy donors.
In Santa Fe, the two Democratic presidential campaigns work out of the same brown adobe union hall, with volunteers gathering at night to dial up potential voters.
“We have agreed to co-exist respectfully and courteously with each other,” said Susan Popovich, the Sanders office manager and retired union organizer for the California Teachers Association.