This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Sen. Bernie Sanders knows Utah is a red state.
"Your four members of U.S. Congress are Republicans," he said. "I am more than aware your two United States senators are Republicans. I am more than aware that your governor is Republican. And I am more than aware the majority of your Legislature is Republican."
Then Sanders paused. And the audience of 3,000 Utah Democrats went quiet.
"[That] puts you in a great position: You have no place to go but up," he said with a grin. Cheers and claps held steady for the next 30 seconds.
That was the case for most of what the former progressive presidential candidate said. During Sanders' nearly 42-minute address Friday in downtown Salt Lake City, the crowd hollered and roared with support while filling two floors of The Rail Event Center. They were there for him.
Sanders, the 75-year independent from Vermont, joined Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez as part of their "Come together and fight back" tour to unite Democrats across the nation with stops in eight states.
But for all of the effort to promote harmony and consensus, the visit to Utah faced loud discord and striking division at times. Audience members certainly favored Sanders, shouting "Bernie, Bernie, Bernie" as they waited during a 30-minute delay. And about half booed when Perez walked to the podium, with many shaking their thumbs toward the ground as he spoke. The two men also spent just seconds appearing together on stage.
Malachi Thomson, 23, attended the event, noting he's "not really a fan of Perez," who he believes represents an establishment view of the Democratic Party. Thomson co-founded the local "Utah for Bernie Sanders" group during the primary, which Sanders lost to mainstream Democrat Hillary Clinton nationally after a landslide win in some states, Utah among them.
"Bernie is the one that's different," he said, wearing a "Bernie 2020" pin on his hat.
The tour is intended to reconnect the progressive and established factions of the party, with Perez noting that the two groups are "inextricably bound." And they did seem to join together on one common belief: President Donald Trump will hurt the country.
"We have the most dangerous president in American history," Perez said to massive cheers before outlining the future he sees for the party with a series of "We believe" statements.
"We believe that when women succeed, America succeeds," he said.
"We believe that college should be affordable for everyone," he said.
"We believe that as Democrats, our diversity is our greatest strength," he said.
Sanders addressed many of the platforms that formed the basis of his presidential campaign: supporting climate-change research, protecting the environment, reducing student debt, raising the minimum wage, eliminating tax breaks for the wealthy and championing women's reproductive rights. There was no dissent from the crowd as he spoke. Each issue he brought up was one his listeners cared about.
The senator also focused much of his time on health care. He condemned Republicans for threatening to eviscerate Obamacare.
"Does anybody in Utah think that that [GOP] plan makes sense?" he asked.
"We want universal health care," a man shouted from the audience.
"That's damn right," Sanders said.
Additionally, the senator stressed that the Democratic Party has "turned its back on" Utah and other red and rural states. "And I think that was a mistake. … I do believe we can win here in Utah."
"I understand there are differences between Vermont and Utah. Our maple syrup is much better than yours, though your mountains are much higher than ours," he joked. "But at the end of the day, we're all human beings and we have the same needs. And we have the same vision. And we want the same things for our kids and for our parents."
Hours before the event, as temperatures hovered in the 30s and 40s, a line to get inside stretched blocks around the building. Chrissi Ashton, 51, got in place at 6 a.m. She was later joined by her 72-year-old mother, Penny Breiman, and 18-year-old son, Spencer, boasting "three generations of Bernie supporters."
"He never disappoints," Chrissi Ashton said of Sanders, noting that she stood in line in the rain for three hours to vote for him in last year's caucuses.
Many of the attendees said Sanders inspired them. One man stood outside reading "Our Revolution," Sanders' fourth and most recent book about transforming America through progressive ideals. Vendors sold "Feel the Bern!" hats and "Love trumps hate" pins. And plenty of folks wore 2016 Sanders T-shirts while chatting about his visits to Utah during the campaign.
Barbara Wachocki, 58, of South Ogden, sat on the sidewalk creating a poster that read "The Bern lit our fire!"
"He stands for what basically used to be American ideals," she said. Wachocki also voted for Sanders in Utah's caucuses, which the senator won with an overwhelming 79 percent of the vote, and regrets that he wasn't the Democratic nominee. Trump later won the state in the general election, gaining 45 percent of the vote in Utah to just 27 percent for Hillary Clinton and 21 percent for independent Evan McMullin.
To help with future elections in the state, "from the school board to the Senate," Perez promised the national party would invest more funds and place more organizers in Utah. He sees a potential opportunity for Democrats with Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz's seat opening up.
"[Republicans] were writing the obituary for the Affordable Care Act," he said, "and now they're writing the obituary for Jason Chaffetz."
Rep. Mia Love's seat is also a possibility, Perez told reporters before speaking to the audience.
The Republican National Committee denounced the Friday event in Utah, with Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel saying "not-so-popular DNC Chair Tom Perez and self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders brought their unhinged, profanity-laced roadshow to Salt Lake City."
"Voters entrusted President Trump and Republicans to move our nation forward and enact their vision to better life for all Americans," she added. "The derailing crazy train and failed liberal policies on display today will do nothing to change that."
Sanders swore just once, saying "damn" when expressing enthusiasm for universal health care.
Utah GOP Chairman James Evans jokingly renamed the tour "The Falling Apart & Fight Back Tour."
"Based on the reactions of Utah Democrats it appears going forward their strategy is to embrace socialism," he said. "I believe that is a nonstarter in Utah because socialism is contrary to our very fabric."
Still, Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon opened Friday's event with nothing but optimism. He applauded Perez and Sanders for stopping in the "reddest of red states," which presidential campaigns and politicians usually skip.
Sanders pounced on that idea during his address, saying that Utahns' voices matter just as much as residents in blue states. He encouraged residents to make an impact through grass-roots movements.
"I want to make it as clear as I can," he said. "This is not about Bernie Sanders. This is not about Tom Perez or anyone else. You know who this is about? It's about you."
When he finished his speech, Sanders threw his fist into the air as he stood in front of a large American flag.