PISCATAWAY, NJ - Thousands of supporters packed the Louis Brown Athletic Center on the campus of Rutgers University in Piscataway Sunday to “Feel the Bern.”
Democrat Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders came to the Garden State in his Democrat Primary battle against Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Sanders is about 300 pledged delegates behind the former Secretary of State, but Clinton has some 400 “super delegates” in her corner to reap the party’s nomination.
With the Democrat National Convention set for Philadelphia in July, New Jersey is one of the few large delegate prizes to be awarded in the final primaries in June.
“This (rally) is incredibly important, especially because we didn’t even think that he (Sanders) would even be able to come here,” said Chatham resident Jessenia Flores, a 22-year-old political science major and co-president of Rutgers for Bernie. “The fact that he is here gives us more energy to keep us going. I absolutely think that he has a chance to beat Hillary. Both candidates have to fight for what they want, and I think that this will be a close election, and a good fight. I support Bernie, because I think that he is trustworthy. I don't support Hillary, I don't believe that she is honest at all.”
She was one of the about 7,000 attending the rally, mostly made up of college students which have been Sanders greatest asset in his 18 primary and caucus victories.
Doors at the athletic center opened at 2 p.m. to long lines of supporters preparing to go through the Secret Service security checkpoints.
Once inside, the crowd waited for some three hours before the start of the program.
A group of “VIPs” were able to take part in a “meet and greet” with Sanders, including former state assembly candidate and teacher Marie Corfield and Pat Morris, a social worker from Highland Park that has been a volunteer in the campaign.
“I am a big supporter of Bernie’s campaign,” Morris said before entering the center. “I think he is the best candidate I’ve ever seen in my lifetime to focus on the needs of the middle and working class.”
Morris said his policies to take on the corruption on Wall Street and in the financial markets as well as campaign finance reform and free college tuition at public schools gained her enthusiastic support.
“This is what is going to help people educate their children so that it’s not a barrier (to success), and it makes the world more fair,” she said.
She also said she supports the causes Sanders took on during his long career as an activist in the Civil Rights and women’s’ movements.
“I feel that Bernie really speaks to the (radical) changes that we need,” she said. “Incremental change is not going to (fix) what is substantially wrong (in society).”
Among those attending the rally, a common theme is a distrust for Hillary Clinton, especially among the younger members of the audience.
Unlike the former Secretary of State, younger supporters say that Sanders genuinely “cares” about them and the issues that make a difference to them.
“A big reason why I’m here is because I feel that all people should genuinely care, and Bernie does. He should be elected to care, not just about our country, but the policies that are enacted,” said Faris Elris a 20-year-old Environmental Business Economics major from Middletown. “A big reason why someone like Bernie should be elected is because he is shining light on really big things. He is getting the support he is getting because people aren’t paying enough attention. I care, and more people should care.”
That feeling has led Sanders to enjoy a huge advantage among younger Democrat voters and has energized them to go out in their college campuses and get other students involved in the process.
“I hoping to hear good words from him, and I hope that we can make a difference in the primary election,” said Oriom Farr, a 20-year-old Materials Engineering major from Sparta, and treasurer for Rutgers for Bernie. “We have been trying to get students to register, and get involved in this election. The millennial vote is the most important vote in this election.”
The fact that Sanders has embraced policies outside of the political mainstream also weigh in gaining him the “millennial’s” support.
“He is not an established candidate. He is the one who will face the challenges that face this country in an authentic way,” said Mohammed Nazmussadad, 27, from Colonia. “He has been using wedge issues to gain numbers. I think he is one of the people talking about foreign policy and national issues in the least insane way. I feel good about Bernie because I think there will be a lot less broken promises. He sees things in an authentic way, and that why I like him.”
When he finally took the stage around 5:15 p.m., Sanders wasted no time in letting the crowd know how important a role the Garden State could play in his primary battle against Clinton.
“Are you guys ready to stand up, fight back, and make a political revolution?” Sanders said to thunderous applause. “Then, let’s go because you’ve come to the right place.”
Starting out a campaign labeled as a “fringe” movement, Sanders said the campaign has come a long way in the last year.
“We have made the financial establishment, the political establishment and the media establishment quite nervous,” Sanders said. “But that is a good thing. They need to get nervous because real change is coming.”
Sanders said the campaign has won in 18 state primaries and caucuses and “with your help” will win more, including New Jersey.
Those victories, he said, have given him around 45 percent of the available delegates, but he will need to end up with 50 percent to possibly block Clinton from winning the nomination on the first ballot, forcing an open convention.
Sanders said that, in poll after poll, he lines up the strongest against the GOP’s presumptive nominee, businessman Donald Trump.
“From now until the last primary on June 14 in Washington, D.C., we are going to fight for every single vote,” he said.
South Brunswick resident Azra Baig, who is also a Board of Education member in that township, said hearing from the candidate was “exciting.”
“Such an exciting experience to hear Bernie Sanders speak at a rally packed with thousands of people young, old, men and women of diverse backgrounds,” she said. “It was great to hear some of the policies he plans to incorporate if elected president such as equal wages for women, the importance of climate change, increasing the minimum wage to $15, and tuition free public college education. With so much passion and enthusiasm from Bernie Sanders and the cheering crowd, I definitely "Felt the Bern" today.”
The enthusiasm during the rally was certainly palpable as the attendees cheered loudly for each issue and how Sanders said he plans to deal with them.
“Bernie Sanders cares more about the people, unlike others who only care about their own issues,” said Spencer Monaghan, a 19-year-old linguistics major from Sayreville. “He cares about us, and that’s what makes him special. None of the other candidates know what they want. Bernie does.”