Bernie Sanders keeps saying he's not running a traditional campaign, and Thursday night he did his best to prove it -- he became the first presidential candidate to visit Yakima in 17 years, drawing a diverse, loud and devoted crowd to the Yakima Valley SunDome just two days before Washington's March 26 Democratic caucuses.
His campaign placed the head count at 7,000, and few empty seats were left by the time the 74-year-old junior senator from Vermont took the microphone.
After some traditional performances by Yakama Nation tribal dancers and an enthusiastic introduction by Yakima County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Susan Palmer, Sanders strode out to cheers and chants of "Feel the Bern."
Sanders focused on domestic issues during his hourlong talk, hammering home points he has made throughout his campaign against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
He spoke of addressing environmental issues, righting a "rigged economy" that caters to the ultra-rich, and challenging "cowardly" Republican leaders who favor billionaire constituents and corporations over working-class people. He singled out the Walton family -- founders of Walmart -- for his some of his sharpest criticisms, charging that while they are the richest family in the United States, they pay workers in Yakima so badly that some are forced to sleep in their cars.
"So I say to the Walton family, 'Get off welfare, pay your workers,'" Sanders said, drawing loud applause from the audience.
If elected, he said he would work for a national minimum wage of $15 an hour and seek ways to improve financial prospects for middle- and lower-income Americans.
"What we're gonna do is something pretty radical," Sanders said. "We're gonna create an economy that works for all of us."
He also reiterated his support for improving education and making college tuition free.
And he reached out to women, veterans, Native Americans, African Americans and Latinos, pledging he would use executive powers, if necessary, to pass immigration reforms and create a path to citizenship.
"At the end of the day, love trumps hatred," Sanders said.
Pending the outcome of Saturday's caucuses, he faces an uphill battle if he's going to win the Democratic presidential nomination. With 2,383 delegates needed to get the nod and 2,129 still in play, Clinton has 1,690 to Sanders' 946.

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