LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Sen. Bernie Sanders packed a casino ballroom here on his first visit as a presidential candidate to Nevada, whose early caucus carries outsize importance in the Democratic presidential nominating process.
Sanders' campaign had planned to hold the event at smaller room the University of Nevada, but scrambled to find a space large enough to accommodate the more than 1,000 fans who had RSVP’d on the campaign’s website. The final crowd was over 700, according to Sanders’ campaign.
“What we’re seeing here, in Vermont, in New Hampshire, in Minneapolis, all over the country, are large turnouts of people who are saying very clearly that enough is enough,” Sanders told reporters after the event.
Sanders has stunned political observers – and himself, he acknowledged -- by attracting raucous crowds wherever his quixotic presidential campaign goes.
Friday morning’s event at the Treasure Island resort was no exception. The near-capacity crowd erupted in applause dozens of times and gave him at least 10 standing ovations. The campaign nearly ran out of the T-shirts it was selling at the back of the room.
The crowd for the 9:00 a.m. workday event skewed older and white, but also included young people and Latinos.
“Whether or not Bernie makes it,” said Nick Russell, who volunteered on Obama’s reelection campaign before he turned 18, “ I don’t think this kind of turnout can be denied.”
A luxury ballroom with gold chandeliers in a hotel with the word “treasure” in its name was an unlikely -- to say the least --environment for a self-declared democratic socialist, yet he invigorated attendees with his populist message.
"The truth of the matter is it is not Congress that regulates Wall Street. It is Wall Street that regulates Congress,” he said. He added that “fraud” and “illegal activity” are synonyms for Wall Street.
Directly across the Las Vegas strip from GOP mega donor Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian hotel, Sanders elicited cheers from the crowd by invoking the conservative titan's name. “You know who he is,” Sanders said. He and other billionaires have "undermined" the "foundations of American democracy,” he added.
The campaign, which many doubted could get serious, appeared well organized. Volunteers greeted a stream of supporters coming off the elevators, handing out stickers and collecting email addresses and donations. Reporters were asked to check in at a press table. Coffee and pastries were served.
These are the common trappings of a presidential campaign, but were nowhere to be seen at recent Sanders events.
"We're going to win here in Nevada," Sanders concluded his speech.
State Sen. Tick Segerblom, who has endorsed Sanders and introduced him today said victory is definitely within reach. Noting the small numbers that compete in the Nevada caucus, he said Sanders has a real shot of beating frontrunner Hillary Clinton if he can fire up more of the activist base.