- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders says Idaho will support his Democratic presidential bid against Hillary Clinton, despite the state’s notoriously deep red roots.

“This great state is ready to head into a revolution,” Sanders said, wrapping up his hour-long speech to a cheering crowd in Idaho Falls. The rally was packed with supporters with just a lone Trump supporter standing peacefully by the entrance while another bystander held a sign that read “No socialism.”

The presidential hopeful is currently holding rallies across several Western states, but he will return to Boise on Monday before Idaho Democrats will caucus that Tuesday.

Standing in the home city of GOP-mega donor Frank VanderSloot - an Idaho businessman and billionaire - Sanders decried big money influencing political races and attracted cheers boasting once again that his campaign runs on small donations from supporters.

VanderSloot told The Associated Press earlier this year that he would send “bucketloads” of cash to support former GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, who has since dropped out of the race.

Sanders also criticized Idaho’s state lawmakers for refusing to expand Medicaid eligibility so that an estimated 78,000 Idahoans could qualify for health insurance. The Republican-dominated Idaho Legislature has repeatedly declined to address Medicaid expansion, an option under the Affordable Care Act.

“Health care is a right of all people, not a privilege,” Sanders said.

Sanders has lost in key states such as Ohio, Florida and Missouri to Clinton, who holds a strong lead in delegates needed to become the party’s nomination. But the recent string of losses in delegates wasn’t mentioned in Sanders’ speech on Friday. Instead, he focused on the support he hopes to gain in Idaho and throughout the West.

“When we began our campaign about 10 months ago, we were at 3 percent in the polls … We had no political organization and we had no money, “Sanders said. “I dare say not a whole lot of people in Idaho were Bernie Sanders supporters, but we’ve come a long way. We have a path toward victory that goes right through Idaho.”

Sanders’ message on addressing student loan debt hit close to home for Twin Falls resident Samantha Shipley, 36, who is struggling with her own debt and loans while working to finish her master’s degree.

“Bernie stands for what I believe in,” said Shipley. “He’s definitely the candidate I identify with the most.”

Meanwhile, Brooke Hubbard, 20, had traveled from Jackson Hole with her grandmother for the rally.

“This will be the first time I get to vote in a presidential election,” she said. “And I really identify with Bernie. He has a way to bring people together and you saw that today with just so many people traveling from all around to come see him.”

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