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Thousands Gather To See Bernie Sanders In Vancouver, Washington

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders campaigned in Washington state Sunday, making his first stop in Vancouver.

He spoke about the need for campaign finance reform, a single-payer healthcare system, student debt, and challenges facing communities of color.

Some 7,500 people waited in the rain for hours in a line that snaked around Hudson’s Bay High School.

“It sounds to me like the people of Vancouver and the state of Washington are ready for a political revolution,” Sanders said as the crowd cheered and waived signs.

The Vermont senator’s visit comes ahead of Saturday’s Democratic caucuses, where he’s expected to do well.

Former president Bill Clinton is scheduled to campaign Monday on behalf of his wife in Spokane and Vancouver. At stake in the caucuses are 118 delegates -- most will be divided proportionally between Sanders and Clinton.

“We need real change in this country,” Sanders said in Vancouver. “Between you and me, I do not believe that real change is going to come from a candidate like Sec. Clinton who receives millions of dollars from Wall Street.”

Sanders spoke for about 45 minutes. He said the current campaign finance system is corrupt and he said the “economy is rigged” in favor of the wealthiest.

Sanders talked about high rates of student debt and the need for affordable college. He said he would make public universities and colleges free and pay for it by taxing Wall Street banks and financial institutions.

The Vancouver rally was a largely young crowd, including many people from the Portland metro area. Sanders said his campaign is doing well with young people, but acknowledged that it’s struggling with older voters.

“We’re working on it,” Sanders said. He also said he’s listening to Latino, Native American and African American communities.

“Anyone who has read five minutes of American history understands how shamefully and dishonorably we have treated the first Americans,” he said.

Sanders also spoke about the need for immigration reform. And he said the African American community is tired of seeing its communities suffer from what he called inferior schools, high unemployment and “seeing our jails filled with young African Americans.”

Sanders said the Affordable Care Act is a good start, but that more needs to be done to address healthcare.

He got his largest cheers in Vancouver when he called for a single-payer healthcare system.

Sanders held other rallies in Seattle and Spokane. Most who came to hear him in Vancouver said they already support him, but few were less certain.

“I know what I’m not going to do. I just haven’t decided what I’m going to do,” said Ghlena Easterly, an Independent voter from Portland who says her biggest frustration is with Congress.

"I’m not going to vote Republican,” Easterly said. "That’s for sure on any of those candidates. So we’re down to Hilary and Bernie so I’m having a closer look at him.”

Vancouver resident John Nugent, a Democrat, said he supports Sanders and plans to caucus for him.

“Republicans are eager to fight wars around the world and spend billions of dollars on that, but I think the middle class in this country has been screwed by that whole process,” he said. “We deserve something for our tax dollars and he’s going to give it to us.”

Nugent said Clinton has too much “baggage,” but he’d support her if she becomes the nominee.

Liying Zheng and her 14-year-old son Jason Kowalski live in Camas, Washington.

“He is making Hilary face her inconsistencies in the past. And even though I don’t really have that much hope for him winning I think that he’s bringing a lot of positive things to this election,” said Kowalski.

Zheng immigrated to the U.S. from China.

She’s had many opportunities to become a citizen, but so far she hasn’t. But Zheng said this election cycle makes her want to have a voice in the process.

“I have never really been involved in politics,” she said. "This is the first time I’ve come out to an event like this and I feel like the enthusiasm and the energy coming from the people it’s just so very touching and moving.”

It’s that enthusiasm Sanders hopes he’ll be able to harness and carry to a win in Saturday’s caucuses.

<p>Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd of supporters outside of Hudson's Bay High School in Vancouver, Washington. It was one of three campaign stops the Vermont Senator had in Washington Sunday.</p>

Bryan M. Vance

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Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd of supporters outside of Hudson's Bay High School in Vancouver, Washington. It was one of three campaign stops the Vermont Senator had in Washington Sunday.

<p>People waited in the rain for hours ahead of Bernie Sanders' campaign event in Vancouver, Washington.</p>

Bryan M. Vance

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People waited in the rain for hours ahead of Bernie Sanders' campaign event in Vancouver, Washington.

<p>People waited in line for hours ahead of Bernie Sanders' campaign event in Vancouver, Washington.</p>

Bryan M. Vance

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People waited in line for hours ahead of Bernie Sanders' campaign event in Vancouver, Washington.

<p>A supporter holds up a Bernie Sanders for president sign during a rally in Vancouver, Washington, Sunday, March 20, 2016.</p>

Bryan M. Vance

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A supporter holds up a Bernie Sanders for president sign during a rally in Vancouver, Washington, Sunday, March 20, 2016.

<p>With a 5,000 person limit on the gym at Hudson's Bay High School, thousands of people were stuck out in the rain. Bernie Sanders stopped off to address them before heading inside to speak to the larger crowd.</p>

Bryan M. Vance

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With a 5,000 person limit on the gym at Hudson's Bay High School, thousands of people were stuck out in the rain. Bernie Sanders stopped off to address them before heading inside to speak to the larger crowd.

<p>Bernie Sanders supporters came out in support of the presidential hopeful, despite the rain. Thousands of people lined up for hours ahead of his campaign stop in Vancouver, Washington, Sunday for a chance to hear the Vermont Senator speak.</p>

Bryan M. Vance

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Bernie Sanders supporters came out in support of the presidential hopeful, despite the rain. Thousands of people lined up for hours ahead of his campaign stop in Vancouver, Washington, Sunday for a chance to hear the Vermont Senator speak.

<p>A young Bernie Sanders fan sports gray hair and thick glasses in an impersonation of the Vermont senator at a rally in Vancouver Sunday, March 20, 2016.</p>

Bryan M. Vance

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A young Bernie Sanders fan sports gray hair and thick glasses in an impersonation of the Vermont senator at a rally in Vancouver Sunday, March 20, 2016.

<p>Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of supporters at Hudson's Bay High School in Vancouver, Washington, Sunday, March 20, 2016. Sanders touched on each of his hallmark campaign points: campaign finance reform, wall street taxes and making public colleges and universities free.</p>

Bryan M. Vance

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Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of supporters at Hudson's Bay High School in Vancouver, Washington, Sunday, March 20, 2016. Sanders touched on each of his hallmark campaign points: campaign finance reform, wall street taxes and making public colleges and universities free.

<p>A Bernie Sanders supporter wears a "Bern Baby Bern" T-shirt.</p>

Bryan M. Vance

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A Bernie Sanders supporter wears a "Bern Baby Bern" T-shirt.

<p>Speaking on education in America, Bernie Sanders told the crowd of more than 5,000 people packed into the gym at Hudson's Bay High School that he will make public college and universities free if he is elected president.</p>

Bryan M. Vance

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Speaking on education in America, Bernie Sanders told the crowd of more than 5,000 people packed into the gym at Hudson's Bay High School that he will make public college and universities free if he is elected president.

<p>Bernie Sanders received a chorus of cheers as he spoke about reforming taxes on Wall Street. The Vermont senator also criticized competitor Hillary Clinton's campaign for accepting money from people on Wall Street.</p>

Bryan M. Vance

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Bernie Sanders received a chorus of cheers as he spoke about reforming taxes on Wall Street. The Vermont senator also criticized competitor Hillary Clinton's campaign for accepting money from people on Wall Street.

<p>A young Bernie Sanders supporter holds a sign during a rally for the presidential hopeful at Hudson's Bay High School in Vancouver, Washington, Sunday, March 20, 2016. More than 5,000 people crammed into the high school's gym to hear Sanders speak.</p>

Bryan M. Vance

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A young Bernie Sanders supporter holds a sign during a rally for the presidential hopeful at Hudson's Bay High School in Vancouver, Washington, Sunday, March 20, 2016. More than 5,000 people crammed into the high school's gym to hear Sanders speak.

<p>A crowded gym listens attentively to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' speech during a campaign rally in Vancouver, Washington, Sunday, March, 20, 2016.</p>

Bryan M. Vance

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A crowded gym listens attentively to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' speech during a campaign rally in Vancouver, Washington, Sunday, March, 20, 2016.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Conrad Wilson is a reporter and producer covering criminal justice and legal affairs for OPB.