SALT LAKE CITY — Flanked by the U.S. and Utah flags on an outdoor stage at the Utah State Fairpark, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders rallied several thousand supporters midday Monday with a promise of “a government that works for all and not just the few.”

The Vermont senator said “the establishment is getting very, very nervous” because of the success of his populist message that includes raising taxes on the rich, providing Medicare to all Americans, making higher education tuition free and cancelling student debt, and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Sanders is at the top of a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll, with 28% of likely voters in Utah’s Super Tuesday Democratic primary naming him as the candidate they’re voting for in the largely by-mail primary that has been underway for weeks.

Poll: Bernie Sanders leading in Utah’s Super Tuesday Democratic presidential primary

Two of the Democrats trailing Sanders in the poll — former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — just dropped out of the race and are endorsing former Vice President Joe Biden, who scored a big victory in South Carolina’s primary Saturday.

Meanwhile, billionaire and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is spending more than $3 million in Utah on his presidential bid, while Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has attracted a following in Utah, appearing at an event in a downtown venue in April 2019 where people had to be turned away.

Supporters scream with excitement as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks to them during a rally at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 2, 2020. | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

“Let us have the biggest turnout in the history of the Utah primary,” Sanders said, telling the crowd, “What this campaign is about is us, not me. Our understanding of human life is very different than that of Donald Trump and his friends.”

He said his campaign is a movement that encompasses people of all ages, races and sexual orientation ready to take on the greed of industries and “the entire 1%” in terms of earnings. “Let us transform this country,” Sanders said at the end of his 40-minute speech to cheers.

Sanders spent plenty of time taking on President Donald Trump, saying at one point that while Trump sees climate change as a hoax, it’s the president who is the hoax, and pledging to deal with what he called both an existential and moral threat to the country and planet.

One of the biggest cheers from the crowd came when Sanders pledged to legalize marijuana use nationwide, and expunge the records of those prosecuted for its use. There was also an enthusiastic response when Sanders said he would end the “demonization” of immigrants, and a little less for his call for sweeping gun safety laws.

Conservatives who support limits on abortion are “hypocrites,” Sanders said to cheers, asking for small government and at the same time telling women what to do.

Utahns waited on the snow-covered fairgrounds for up to two hours waiting for the rally to start, entertained by a singalong to “This Land Is Your Land.” The event began with a solemn land acknowledgment by former Utah State Democratic Party Chairwoman Daisy Thomas, recognizing the Native American tribes who initially lived here.

“Today we are gathered here because we demand a better future,” Thomas, a 2016 Sanders delegate, said. “We need a Democratic Party to once again become the party of working people,” she said, and not be dependent on billionaires.

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Trevor Lambourne of West Jordan said he had planned to vote for Biden but his son, Peyton, wanted him to hear Sanders first.

“He’s trying to talk me into Bernie,” Trevor Lambourne said, describing himself as a supporter of “whoever is going to be the Democratic nominee.” Biden, he said, is “safer, probably, by just a tiny bit and I’m nervous enough, even a tiny bit is worth it. ... He’s not going to scare as many voters as Bernie would.”

But 17-year-old Peyton Lambourne said he believes Sanders is a better bet against Trump.

“He doesn’t put up with anybody’s crap,” he said. “He’s confident, I guess you could say.”

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks to his supporters during a rally at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 2, 2020. Thousands turned out to see the party front-runner a day before Super Tuesday voting in Utah and 13 other states. | Steve Griffin, Deseret News
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