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Thousands cheer on Bernie Sanders

SALT LAKE CITY — High school student Emma Lamae stood at the head of a line that snaked through the parking lot, across the field and down to the street.

Beneath a blue sky and warm sun, she was among the thousands of people who made the trek to the top of This Is the Place Heritage Park Friday afternoon to hear Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speak.

"He's for us; he's not for himself," said Lamae, who was there with her friends, all of whom are in high school or college. "He's for our generation," she said of the 74-year-old candidate.

Sanders made stops in Idaho and Utah Friday to drum up support for his long-shot bid for the nomination — made even longer after Democratic challenger and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton secured a large lead in the first half of the primary season.

Clinton was not scheduled to make any appearances in Utah herself, although her daughter Chelsea Clinton spent a day campaigning for her in Salt Lake City Tuesday.

In an energetic speech punctuated by cheers from the crowd, Sanders stuck closely to familiar topics, weaving his way through issues like income inequality, climate change and criminal justice reform.

He also repeated calls for free tuition at public colleges, single-payer health care and a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

"This campaign has been moving all over this country and what we are doing is listening to the American people, not just wealthy campaign contributors," Sanders said.

Former NAACP president Benjamin Jealous opened the rally by calling on Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill to release the police body cam video of the shooting of 17-year-old Abdi Mohamed last month, something Sanders echoed in his speech later.

"You are tired and I am tired of seeing videos of unarmed people being shot," Sanders said, as people cheered. "Whether it is Abdi Mohamed or anybody else, what we need to do is make sure that if a police officer like any other public official breaks the law, that officer is held accountable."

Those at the rally, many of them young adults, said they were drawn to Sanders for his authenticity and saw him as a grassroots leader and activist.

They ticked off the topics important to them: income inequality, health care, the cost of education, LGBT rights, reproductive rights and fair trade.

American Fork resident Kathy Clark, who came with her two daughters and a friend, said Sanders “doesn’t come across as a typical politician.”

“I love that he’s a genuine, sincere person and he’s for the middle class,” she said.

Andy Triplett, a retired steelworker, said he is voting for Sanders because of his commitment to keeping manufacturing jobs in the U.S.

Triplett acknowledged criticism of Sanders' platform as unrealistic and likely to be shot down by Congress. But he said that just means citizens have to work even harder to elect senators and representatives who reflect their values.

“Voting’s not where it ends, it’s where it starts,” Triplett said.

Asked if they would support Clinton in the general election, many people hesitated or winced.

"Here's what I know," said Nathan Nelson, a Provo dad. "I will not vote for Trump."

Nelson, who grew up in a conservative family, doesn't support abortion and is actively LDS. But he said he was taught “to love each other and take care of each other,” and he said Sanders’s policies align with those values better than any of the other candidates.

Many people at the rally said the election seemed to reflect a moment of national uncertainty when it comes to political parties and ideology.

Andrew Hills, a 27-year-old sales employee, said he would have to reevaluate his decision if Clinton became the nominee, even though he has a hard time seeing himself swinging red.

"I hope the bipartisan system dies," Hills said. "Neither party represents the population."


Twitter: DaphneChen_