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caption: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., shakes hands at a campaign event in Tacoma, Wash., Monday, Feb. 17, 2020. 
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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., shakes hands at a campaign event in Tacoma, Wash., Monday, Feb. 17, 2020.
Credit: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Bernie Sanders' Tacoma Dome challenge: Get young people to jump on board

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders lost Washington state's presidential primary four years ago. At his first rally back in the state for this year's race, he called for large voter turnout.

“We're going to win here in Washington and we are going to defeat Trump because we have the strongest grassroots movement in the modern history of the United States of America,” Sanders told a crowd of over 17,000 at the Tacoma Dome on Tuesday night.

One first-time voter Sanders still has to convince is 18-year-old Mataya Harris from Lakewood. She said she wants the Democratic candidate most likely to defeat President Donald Trump in November.

“If more young people got out and voted, definitely. But young people are too scared,” Harris said outside the rally.

caption: 18-year-old Mataya Harris from Lakewood said she's still deciding who she'll support in this Democratic primary outside the Tacoma Dome on Monday, February 17th, 2020.
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18-year-old Mataya Harris from Lakewood said she's still deciding who she'll support in this Democratic primary outside the Tacoma Dome on Monday, February 17th, 2020.
Credit: KUOW PHOTO/ Casey Martin


Young voter turnout will be essential for whoever wins the Democratic primary. Right now Sanders is polling highest nationally among voters younger than 45, but his turnout is not quite at 2008 primary levels.

Sanders’s wife, Jane, said the campaign is not worried.

“In Iowa we saw a 33% increase in young people under 29 coming out to vote. In New Hampshire it was a record-breaking turnout. So we're doing quite well,” Sanders said.

A new NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll gives Sanders a substantial lead -- but challenger Michael Bloomberg jumped into second place.

Sanders directed most of his attacks at Trump, but among his Democratic opponents, he went after the former New York mayor and his massive political ad buys.

"This is a democracy, not an oligarchy," Sanders said. "And you're not gonna buy this election."

Tuesday's rally had the vibe of a rock concert with supporters wearing jumpers covered in Sanders’ face. The band Portugal. The Man warmed up the crowd before the Democratic-Socialist spoke.

Seattle City Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda were greeted with cheers as they called for taxing large corporations like Amazon and declared health care a human right.

Sanders seemed to focus his pitch on issues that would resonate with younger voters like eliminating student debt, making public colleges tuition-free, and tackling the climate crisis.

“I've got a question for you all: how many people here know somebody who was arrested for possession of marijuana?” Sanders asked the crowd after saying he would legalize marijuana. “We're going to expunge the records of those who arrested for possession of marijuana.”

Jules Hetland, teacher from Seattle, said she’s worried Sanders won’t be able to build up broader support ahead of the general election.

“Right now he is so far to the left that those middle folks that have all of the money are not exactly excited about him,” Hetland said. “So that doesn’t give me a lot of confidence.”

Sanders is among three Democratic candidates to visit the Seattle-area within a week. Former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg held a private fundraiser Saturday. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren will hold a rally at Seattle Center on Feb. 22. All three will be onstage Tuesday night for the next primary debate in Nevada.