CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Fans danced gleefully to music while guzzling beer. Smiles abounded and deafening cheers arose without warning. And, in the restroom, someone was smoking what smelled like marijuana.
Yes, it was a concert. Yes, it was a party.
But it was also a rally for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the critical early voting state of Iowa, where Democrats will hold their first-in-the-nation caucuses in less than 48 hours.
The massive rally — the Sanders campaign said 3,000 people were in attendance — underscores the groundswell of support, especially from young voters, that Sanders has received during his 2020 presidential run and suggests he’s in prime position for a strong finish in Monday night’s caucuses.
The rally featured live music — and later on, a full set by Grammy-award-winning indie rock group Vampire Weekend — and lengthy introductions from filmmaker Michael Moore, Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, Mark Pocan, of Wisconsin, and Pramila Jayapal, of Washington, and by activist Cornel West.
Sanders, who was introduced by his wife, Jane, was greeted with a standing ovation, as people chanted his name.
“We're not only going to win here in Iowa, we're not only going to win the Democratic nomination, but we are going to defeat this dangerous president,” he said, prompting screaming and applause.
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Sanders fans filled the floor and the first level at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Cedar Rapids, where the concessions were open and individual vendors walked around selling beer and bottled water. The men’s restroom on the floor level had the distinct odor of marijuana smoke.
This is the third campaign event I have been to today. Biden and Buttigieg each had a couple hundred. Sanders campaign says there are 3,000 people here in Cedar Rapids. pic.twitter.com/UAsOdORYH1
“It’s not often you see something like this in politics,” said Jason Bermel, 34, a Trader Joe’s employee who drove to the event from Hills, Iowa, about 30 miles away.
“It was electric. It makes you feel good to be part of something like this,” Bermel said. “You just don’t see this kind of thing with other candidates who are running.”
In fact, the 3,000 people the Sanders campaign said attended dwarfs the numbers provided by rival campaigns for their own Saturday events. By comparison, the attendance numbers sent by the campaigns for former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg for events on Saturday ranged from 158 to more than 700.
Among Democrats running for their party’s presidential nomination, Sanders has emerged as the frontrunner in Iowa — albeit narrowly. The latest RealClearPolitics average of recent polling from the Hawkeye State shows the Vermont senator with 23.8 percent support, compared with 20.2 percent for Biden and 15.8 percent for Pete Buttigieg.