In last Minnesota pitch, Sanders seeks extra effort

Sanders in Mpls
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders rallies a Minneapolis crowd on the eve of precinct caucuses. He took the stage with his wife, Jane, and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison Brian Bakst/ MPR Photo

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders pressed his supporters to keep his insurgent candidacy moving by giving him a much-needed Minnesota win on Super Tuesday.

The Democratic presidential hopeful, whose Monday visit marked his fourth consecutive day in the state, told a midday rally Monday at the Minneapolis Convention Center that a victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the state was within reach.

"We can win, no question, here in Minnesota, if we have the turnout," Sanders said.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison was more emphatic, telling the crowd of several hundred that they need to knock on doors until their knuckles are sore.

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“We’re close here in Minnesota. No one should feel like we have this in the bag, we don’t,” said Ellison, one of Sanders’ most prominent backers in the state and in Congress. “We can get it, but we ain’t got it yet.”

Clinton's campaign confirmed she will make stops in Minnesota on Tuesday.

Over the past two days, the candidate wasn't ceding any ground, dispatching daughter Chelsea on a swing through the state.

Chelsea Clinton spoke to a group of Hillary Clinton supporters in Duluth on the before Minnesota's precinct caucuses. Dan Kraker | MPR News

Chelsea Clinton spoke to about 75 supporters of her mother's presidential campaign Monday morning in Duluth.

She called this election the most important of her lifetime, in part because she's pregnant with her second child. And she said she's deeply troubled by what she termed "the normalization of hate speech" in the Republican presidential campaign.

"I just couldn't imagine a better leader for the more equitable world that I want my children to grow up in, where they can be whomever they want, love whomever, they want, worship however they want, live wherever they want, than my mom," Chelsea Clinton said.

But it was Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, personally digging in. Minnesota is one of the few northern states with Tuesday contests, along with Massachusetts and his home state of Vermont. Since Friday, Sanders has addressed audiences from Hibbing in Minnesota's northeast to Rochester in the southeast, buttressing an aggressive TV ad campaign.

Sanders used his Minneapolis remarks to remind voters of plans to ease college student debt, break up big banks, fight the expansion of oil pipelines and seek stronger pay equity laws. He drew contrasts with Clinton on their votes on sending troops into Iraq (she voted yes; he no) and on the way they are funding their campaigns.

Before his remarks, Sanders met privately with former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, a political independent who hasn't made a formal endorsement yet.

"If I were a Republican I would endorse Trump. If I were a Democrat I would endorse Sanders. I'm an independent. So I have the luxury. I can pick and choose either one," Ventura said. "The only reason I endorse both of them the same is because of the campaign finance. We gotta get the money out of politics."

Ventura said he hasn't ruled out a third-party bid on the Libertarian Party ticket.

"If Bernie falls, then watch out for Jesse Ventura, " he said.

Voters at Sanders' rally said a strong showing -- possibly a win -- in Minnesota is potentially vital to the future of his insurgent campaign.

Michael Ampaabeng, a senior at the University of Minnesota studying IT infrastructure, said he’ll be with Sanders when he heads to caucus for the first time ever.

“Minnesota gets referred to as the New England of the Midwest sometimes. It’s very important that Bernie Sanders can win in places other than the East Coast, his home area," Ampaabeng said. "It’s important that he can show he can win all across the United States.”

Several supporters said they appreciated Sanders' resolve on issues, from his anti-war stances to zeal for campaign finance change.

"His points are points. They don’t change. They don’t shift," said retired teacher Sally Gibbs. "Bernie has always said these things, always. I’ve noticed for years that this man does not waver.”

If Sanders doesn't go the distance, Gibbs said she would grudgingly back Clinton.

"I would have trouble supporting Clinton, but I will," she said. "But I hope that she will select someone like Bernie to help her with domestic affairs.”

Kevin McCormick, a machine operator from Eden Prairie, was more conciliatory about Clinton as a backup option if his preferred candidate Sanders peters out.

"I’ll support Secretary Clinton as the nominee because I believe her ideas are far better than what the Republicans have put out so far," McCormick said. "I don’t know that the Republicans are focusing on the needs of America. They’re spending a lot of time fighting among each other and blaming people.”

The Republican candidates have spent comparatively little time in Minnesota. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was the only one to come through once 2016 arrived. He appeared at a boisterous Minneapolis rally last week and had another planned for Andover on Tuesday.

Minnesota Public Radio News reporter Dan Kraker contributed to this report.