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Large crowd turns out for Bernie Sanders rally in Laramie

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LARAMIE — U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders told some 1,800 people gathered at a rally Tuesday night that Wyoming can be part of the political revolution that shifts the balance of power from the billionaires to the young, elderly, middle class and low-income people.

“With your help on Saturday, we’re going to win here in Wyoming,” he said. “Then we are headed to New York.”

The U.S. senator from Vermont spoke for about 30 minutes at the University of Wyoming Arts and Sciences Auditorium during a rally that featured upbeat oldies music and cheering campaign staff holding signs saying “A Future To Believe In.” Bernie spoke shortly after all the major news networks announced he had won the Wisconsin primary. He thanked the people of Wisconsin for their support.

“I think people in this country are tired of establishment politics.”

Wyoming Democrats will hold their county caucuses Saturday. Delegates will be selected for the party’s state convention next month. Wyoming Democrats will send 18 delegates to July’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

The proportion of delegates each candidate receives in the county caucuses will be the same proportion sent to Philadelphia.

Ultra-conservative Wyoming is getting a lot of attention from Democratic candidates. Sanders’ wife, Jane Sanders, spoke earlier Tuesday in Cheyenne and Monday night in Casper. Monday morning, former President Bill Clinton campaigned for his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Cheyenne.

A Democratic presidential candidate needs at least 2,383 delegates to win the national nomination in Philadelphia, and Wyoming is proving important in the race, Democratic observers have said.

Sanders said the major media and pundits had described him as a fringe candidate but his candidacy has gained momentum. He’s beating Clinton in many states and polls show he is more electable than Clinton if the Republican candidate is Donald Trump.

Sanders said he has not established a super political action committee to raise funds. Money in politics is the program, he said.

“We don’t want their money,” he said, ticking off a number of industries he said has too much control — including fossil fuels.

The crowd also said in unison several of Sanders’ campaign slogans and went wild when he mentioned the gender-pay gap. Wyoming has one of the worst pay gaps in the country. Sanders wants to reverse that and to provide three months of paid family leave.

“Why are women giving birth in Wyoming and Wisconsin and Vermont and they’re going back to work in two or three weeks because they don’t have the income to take care of their family?” he said.

Sanders bemoaned the state of the country’s infrastructure. “How come we can (fix) the infrastructure of Iraq and Afghanistan and we cannot rebuild our own?” he asked.

“The status quo is not working,” he said. “We can do better.”

Robert Wolfe, 47, wore a white T-shirt with the words “#FeelTheBern” in large gold letters. He’s normally a registered Republican so he can participate in the primaries of the state’s majority party, he said. But he considers himself more progressive than the average Wyoming Republican and, inspired by Sanders, recently switched his registration to caucus Saturday in Cheyenne, he said.

Wolfe likes Sanders’ stances on health care and campaign finance.

“I think he’s really going to get this nation back into shape, economically and politically,” Wolfe said. “The billionaires have too much power.”

At the Bernie rally, people queued outside the Arts and Sciences Auditorium for over an hour before doors opened, as sellers of Bernie pins and T-shirts hawked their wares.

Drew Romero, of Boulder, Colorado, was one of the first in line. He wore a “Bernie for President” sign around his neck, a pink pin saying, “Babes for Bernie” and carried a towel painted with the words “Revolution.” This will be the first presidential election Romero gets to vote in. He will be a delegate in Philadelphia from Colorado, supporting Bernie, he said.

“My generation, we’re actually tired of hoping for change,” he said. “I think there’s nothing bad about America taking care of its citizens.”

Not 24 hours before the UW rally, Jane Sanders told about 120 people in Casper her husband is the candidate most concerned about the gap between the rich and poor and the declining middle class.

Jane Sanders, a community organizer and former college president, met her husband 35 years ago while working with low-income residents of Burlington, Vermont, and organizing a mayoral debate. He was a political newcomer who ultimately won the race.

“He still embodies everything I’ve ever believed in,” she said. “He’s never let me down. He’s never let the people of Vermont down.”

She spoke about Bernie’s plans for free college and trade schools, single-payer health care and increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The format was a town hall meeting. Attendees asked about a variety of topics, from her husband’s views on drugs — Bernie believes marijuana should be removed from the list of Schedule I drugs, and states should be allowed to choose how far they want to loosen its prohibition — to the gender pay-gap — Bernie believes in equal pay for equal work and supports paid maternal and family leave.

Casper City Councilman Shawn Johnson, the only person who approached the microphone and identified as a conservative Republican, touched on the recent layoffs of nearly 500 coal miners in northeast Wyoming.

Jane Sanders expressed sympathy for the miners and described Sanders’ plan to retrain them. That includes $41 billion over the next decade to transition workers from the fossil fuel industry. The package would ensure miners maintain the same level of wages, pension and health care while obtaining job training and vocational skills — perhaps on the side while they worked in fossil fuels — and to invest in the revitalization of coal communities through improving broadband and infrastructure. The $41 billion would come from closing tax loopholes.

“He’s very clear he wants to move away from fossil fuels,” she said.

Follow political reporter Laura Hancock on Twitter @laurahancock.

Follow political reporter Laura Hancock on Twitter @laurahancock.

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