DETROIT (CN) – Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders dropped in for a visit to Michigan days before the scheduled primary for an energetic rally in downtown Detroit to stave off the momentum from the surging Joe Biden campaign.
The 79-year-old self-declared democratic socialist was greeted warmly with cheers from a deeply diverse and cheerful crowd inside a toasty TCF Center as a sharp wind whipped outside. Sanders visited the state last fall to join the picket line in solidarity with striking United Auto Workers members in the City of Hamtramck.
The Vermont senator didn’t mince words when he ascended the stage in his trademark style.
“We will defeat the most dangerous president in our history,” he said.
President Trump was name-checked right off the bat. Sanders called the president a liar and a fraud, and backed up his accusations with multiple examples.
“Trump said his tax plan would not benefit the rich. … He lied. He tried to throw 32 million people off the health care they have.”
Sanders’ showing on Super Tuesday where he only won four of 14 states clarified the race, and several candidates dropped out as a result. Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg quickly endorsed Biden and pledged his massive resources, but Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has yet to make a declaration.
A win by Sanders in Michigan — he narrowly won the Michigan primary over then candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016 — could shift the race once again.
Regardless of the outcome, Sanders pledged to support the winner of the primary.
“If I win, Biden will support me,” the senator said. “If Biden wins, I will support him.”
That being said, Sanders then did his best to draw distinctions between himself and the former vice president.
“I voted against the Wall Street bailout. Biden did. I opposed the Iraq War. Joe Biden voted for that war,” he said to thunderous boos.
The seasoned senator moved deftly from subject to subject as the eager crowd ate it up. He spoke about criminal-justice reform, ending the war on drugs, gun control, health care for all and his support for abortion, triggering a loud cheer when he said he was “100% pro-choice.”
The masses screamed and chanted, “Bernie, Bernie,” when Sanders suggested that he could make marijuana legal nationwide via executive order and followed it up by promising to expunge the records of those who were jailed from it.
U.S. Congressional Representative Rashida Tlaib threw her support behind Sanders back in October and made an appearance at the rally to raucous cheers.
“Who do I want to support that would have the future of my sons in their hands?” she emotionally asked the crowd.
Detroit City Council President Pro Tempore Mary Sheffield also spoke to the attendees after she published an endorsement right before rally.
The Detroit News reported a grassroots organization named Detroit Action that describes its mission as “fighting for political power, racial and economic justice for working-class Detroiters” endorsed Sanders as its candidate. The group seeks to contact 40,000 residents in Detroit ahead of the primary and 275,000 before November’s general election.
John Mogk, a law professor at Wayne State University, said he thinks the Sanders supporters should not be taken for granted.
“Bernie has a lot of passionate, young supporters who work very hard at the grass roots level for his campaign,” Mogk said. “I don’t think you can accurately estimate how important that may be in the next primary. They certainly will be a formidable force.”
Detroit resident Jasmine Middlebrooks said she supports Sanders strongly for his advocacy for health care but voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and will vote for the Democratic candidate, whomever that may be.
“Just so Trump doesn’t win,” she said.
Former state Representative and former Detroit City Council candidate Mary Waters was sitting outside in the lobby by herself, waiting for a friend who supports Sanders but she herself hasn’t decided on a candidate.
“This has been the toughest year for me, in terms of making a decision,” she said. “And it’s tough for a lot of people.”
Waters said her experience as a legislator tempers her belief that candidates can accomplish broad initiatives but she’s sick of the empty declarations.
“I’m looking for someone who can get things done,” she said. “I’m so sick of promises I don’t know what to do. You can’t make a bunch of promises you cannot keep. And you can’t do it alone.”
First-time voter Noah Frederick drove more than 60 miles from Port Huron to attend the rally and is a fervent Sanders supporter.
“He fights for change,” Frederick said. “I think he’s powerful enough and willing to go make that change.”
But the idea of voting for someone else if Sanders loses the nomination is tough to stomach for him.
“You know, I’m still thinking about that,” he said. “It really depends on what the other nominee would win by. If Bernie Sanders was to get his nomination stolen, well I don’t know if I would be able to support the nominee then. I don’t know if I would vote.”
Laura Pratt voted for Hillary in 2016 but supported Sanders for his run “until I couldn’t anymore.” She said she hopes he can win this time around.
“He’s bringing equality, universal health care, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights — all the things that are fundamental,” she said.
But if he doesn’t win Pratt will “absolutely” support the nominee.