FLAGSTAFF – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders held a rally in Flagstaff on Tuesday to support presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The crowd filled the 800-seat Prochnow Auditorium on the Northern Arizona University campus and chanted “Hill Yes!” and “Feel The Bern!” between speakers.
Sanders, a Democrat from Vermont, began with an apology: “Let me begin by apologizing to you for the mistakes my generation made.”
Then he went right after Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“In my view, electing Donald Trump as president would be a disaster for this country,” he said. “Donald is the least qualified candidate in the history of this country.”
“This is a candidate who says to our Mexican brothers and sisters, ‘You are rapists, and you are criminals.’ We cannot have a candidate like that.”
Sanders is the first of three big-name Democrats visiting Arizona this week to support Clinton’s bid for president. Clinton’s daughter Chelsea Clinton will appear at Arizona State University on Wednesday, and first lady Michelle Obama will stump for Clinton here on Thursday.
No Democratic presidential candidate has won Arizona since Bill Clinton in 1996. Recent polling data shows Clinton making a late push to steal the usually reliably red state. That push will include a $2 million investment in advertising, according a statement from Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook on Monday.
In March, Clinton defeated Sanders, who gained a huge following among millennials, in the state’s Democratic presidential preference election.
Simone Green, a senior at the Northern Arizona University, spoke at the rally and said she supports Clinton’s college debt plan.
“Many of us walk directly into debt, and they shouldn’t have to,” she said. “Under Hillary’s plan, debt won’t hold students back. Let’s make college available to everyone and liberate the millions of others from debt.”
Sanders also addressed the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling. The high court overturned a federal law prohibiting political giving by corporations. The ruling opened the door for dark money, in which shadowy groups incorporated as nonprofits and acting as intermediaries make political contributions without disclosing where the money came from.
Sanders told the crowd that Clinton’s first priority as president will be to repeal the ruling.
A protester briefly interrupted the event by yelling “Bill Clinton is a rapist.” Security quickly removed him.
The event opened with 9-year-old Aubrey Begay, dressed in traditional Navajo clothing, who recited the Pledge of Allegiance in the Navajo language.
Peterson Zah, former president of the Navajo Nation, attended the event with his wife, Rosalind Zah.
He said the most important issues for him in this election cycle are “tribal sovereignty and water rights.”
Zah, of Window Rock, is a longtime Clinton supporter.
“I don’t think Donald Trump understands. He doesn’t have a clue to what (tribal sovereignty) means, and we should do whatever we can to select the best candidate,” he said. “I’ve known Hillary Clinton for years. I’ve worked with her in the past and I trust her, she understands American Indian issues.”
Coalter Baker, a spokesman for Trump’s campaign in Arizona, released a statement on Tuesday criticizing the visit.
“With polls showing support for Hillary in the basement across the country with millennial voters, her campaign is sending Bernie Sanders to many states, including today in Arizona — all designed to manufacture an illusion of enthusiasm for her candidacy.
Unfortunately for Bernie, he’s having to prop up his former rival after reports surfaced recently that Hillary talked down to these same young voters for ‘living in their parents’ basement’ and being stuck in a ‘job that doesn’t pay a lot.'”
A recent statewide poll conducted by Highground Public Affairs Consultants, an Arizona-based conservative consulting firm, has Clinton in a virtual tie with Republican nominee Donald Trump at 38.5 percent to 36.5 percent with a margin of error plus or minus 4.8 percentage points. The poll, released Monday, included 400 Arizona voters and was conducted Oct. 14.
Election forecasting website fivethirtyeight.com, gives Clinton a 55.1 percent chance at victory.
After Sanders’ appearance at Northern Arizona University, he headed to another event at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Early voting for the Nov. 8 election has begun.
Contains information from Cronkite News reporter Sean Peick.