Bernie Sanders draws largest crowds yet in Phoenix

Updated

PHOENIX, Arizona – Bernie Sanders had his largest rally yet of his nascent campaign on Saturday night in Phoenix, Arizona.

“We’ve had big turnouts in Wisconsin, in Iowa … but this is the biggest turnout yet!” Sanders said as he took the stage to begin his speech. “And some people say Arizona is a conservative state!” he said, receiving wild applause and cheers from the crowd.

A campaign spokesperson confirmed that over 11,000 people attended the rally at Phoenix Convention Center, which the largest attendance number yet for a Sanders rally.

While the event was timed to coincide with the Netroots Nation conference that brought many progressive activists to Phoenix for the weekend, the attendees at the Saturday night rally appeared to be primarily local area supporters, with some Netroots attendees mixed in.

RELATED: Protesters shout candidates off stage: ‘Black lives matter!’

Sanders spoke for nearly an hour, and his speech initially focused on the economic themes that Sanders has continually emphasized throughout his campaign: income inequality, job creation, raising the minimum wage, and  debt-free college.

Sanders also went after GOP candidate Jeb Bush for his recent comments suggesting that Americans should work more. “Jeb Bush thinks the American people need to work harder,” Sanders said, as the audience booed. “Our people do not need to work longer hours, they need better wages!”

But his speech also broadened beyond his usual comfort zone of economic issues and touched on a broad range of social issues, including LGBT rights, women’s reproductive rights, racial justice, and the gender wage gap.

“What our Republicans colleagues talk about is ‘family values.’ And this is what they mean by family values: they mean that a woman should not be able to have the right to control her own body. They believe that women, if you can believe this, should not be able to purchase the contraceptives they want. And they believe that our gay brothers and sisters should not have the right to marry.”

“Those are their ‘family values,’” Sanders continued, referring to Republicans. “Those are not OUR family values.”

Sanders also addressed wage inequality, saying: “It is unacceptable that women today make 78 cents to the man’s dollar. Brothers, we need to stand with our sisters and fight for pay equity.”

Earlier on Saturday, Sanders spoke at a presidential town hall moderated by journalist and immigration rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas. However, Sanders was only able to speak for a few brief minutes before the event was abruptly cut short due to protesters interrupting the event. During the first portion of the town hall, Vargas interviewed Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley, but the former Maryland governor was interrupted a few questions in by protesters chanting “black lives matter” and “say her name” to draw attention to the recent deaths of black women at the hands of police, including Sandra Bland, who died while in police custody earlier this week, sparking a Twitter movement under the hashtag #IfIDieInPoliceCustody.

At Saturday evening’s event, Sanders made a point of addressing the issues of racial justice and policing tactics that were bought up at the earlier town hall. On race, Sanders said: “While we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go.”

“It is not acceptable to me,” he added, “that we have seen young black men walk down street in this country, be beaten, and be killed unjustly, that is not acceptable.”

As supporters applauded and began to cheer “black lives matter,” Sanders continued: “When a police officer breaks the law, that officer must be held accountable.”

But as the event came to a close, Sanders pivoted back to his comfort zone of economic issues. 

We need to stand up and say, enough is enough, the billionaires are not gonna have it all, it’s our country!” he closed, to thunderous applause and cheers from the crowd.

Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley

Bernie Sanders draws largest crowds yet in Phoenix

Updated