The Petrillo Music Shell in Chicago’s Grant Park was a sea of red, white and blue Saturday afternoon as presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders held a rally with thousands of supporters, just 10 days ahead of the Illinois primary elections.
“Today we are going to make it clear that together we are going to defeat the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country,” Sanders told an estimated crowd of 15,000 on a sunny but chilly Saturday afternoon.
“And today we make it clear that the only way we beat Trump is with a campaign of energy, excitement and grassroots activism,” Sanders said. “That is our campaign.”
Before Sanders can beat President Donald Trump in November’s general election, however, he has to get through his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. On March 17, Illinois and three other states hold their primary elections to help determine who will win the party’s presidential nomination.
Since his big win in South Carolina, Biden’s campaign has surged from left-for-dead to front runner, winning primaries and picking up endorsements from some of his one-time Democratic opponents.
In Chicago this week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin announced their endorsements of Biden. Following his big Super Tuesday wins earlier in the week, Biden had collected endorsements from other influential Illinois Democrats, as well.
None of that seemed to matter to Sanders or his supporters who turned up Saturday, such as Chicago Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza, 10th Ward, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who voiced strong support for the self-described democratic socialist.
“This man that we want to propel to the White House, it’s because we trust him, because he does the right thing, because he speaks truth,” Garcia said.
During his speech, Sanders also was sure to contrast his record with Biden’s.
“Joe Biden and I are friends,” Sanders said. “I have known him for many years but we have different records. We have a different vision and the American people will hear about it.”
Sanders told his followers he voted against the invasion of Iraq, bailouts for Wall Street banks and trade agreements with China, Vietnam and Mexico, which he says cost thousands of American jobs.
He also took aim at a super PAC benefiting Biden.
“There’s another super PAC running millions and millions of dollars in negative ads against us all over this country,” Sanders said. “Let me be very clear, I don’t have a super PAC. We don’t want a super PAC. We don’t need a super PAC. I don’t go to billionaires' homes to receive campaign contributions.”
Meanwhile, Biden campaigned in St. Louis earlier Saturday, where he said he was the one to unite the party and the country, and he would do that by promoting an upbeat message.
"If you want a nominee who’ll bring the party together, who will run on a positive progressive vision for the future, not turn this primary into a campaign of negative attacks — because that will only reelect Donald Trump if we go that route — if you want that, join us,'' Biden said.
Winning, he added, “means uniting America, not sowing more division and anger.'”
But Biden also gently knocked Sanders' weeks of suggestions that he is the candidate who can prompt record voter turnout in November and defeat Trump, saying that actually “we're the the campaign that's going to do that.”
Sanders is pledging to increase Democratic turnout by drawing younger voters, minorities and working class people to the polls even though they tend to vote in lower concentrations than many other Americans. Strong support among Hispanics lifted Sanders to victories in Nevada and California, but Biden trounced him in South Carolina and throughout much of the Deep South that voted during last week's Super Tuesday.
Biden especially ran up the score with African Americans.
Top advisers expect Sanders to finish strong in Washington. Still, he canceled a trip to Mississippi to focus on Michigan, Tuesday's largest prize.
Sanders said repeatedly on Saturday that he and Biden are friends and that, if he's not the nominee, he will support Biden against Trump.
But, he added, “In the remaining months, I intend to make it clear what my views are and what Joe Biden’s are.”
Michael Puente is a reporter for WBEZ. The Associated Press contributed to this report.