- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said Thursday that he was the strongest candidate to beat Republican Donald Trump as he campaigned in Spokane ahead of Saturday’s Democratic caucuses.

The U.S. senator kicked off a two-day visit on Thursday with stops in Spokane and Yakima. He’ll swing through Seattle on Friday.

“It does look like Spokane is ready for a political revolution,” Sanders told a crowd of about 3,000 at the 11,000-seat Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena during a rally that started at 2 p.m.

Sanders said the top goal of Democrats was to retain the White House and that the party needed the strongest candidate to do that: “And you are looking at him,” Sanders said to cheers.

Sanders pointed to his victories in Utah and Idaho earlier this week to show his campaign is gaining momentum against Hillary Clinton, and urged people to attend caucuses on Saturday.

“Get there early,” he said. “Let’s have a record-breaking turnout.”

This was Sanders’ second visit to Spokane this week. Some 10,000 people tried to squeeze into the Spokane Convention Center to see Sanders last Sunday, with most having to watch him speak on video screens outside.

Supporters in Thursday’s crowd were effusive in their praise of Sanders.

“He gets me,” said Destin Cooper, 23, of Spokane, who works for a pizza delivery business. “He wants the greater good.”

Cooper plans to caucus for Sanders on Saturday.

Carlie King, 21, of Spokane, a nursing student, also plans to caucus for Sanders.

“I like the way he is addressing inequality,” King said. “He stays away from harmful rhetoric.”

King said even though some of Sanders’ positions might appear unrealistic, they serve to give people hope.

Gilbert Mendoza, 63, of Spokane, is retired and making his first foray into the caucus system. He said he will turn out for Sanders Saturday.

“I’ve never done this before,” Mendoza said. “There has never been somebody like Bernie to support.”

“He will help small people rise from the economic situation we are in,” Mendoza said.

There are 118 Democratic delegates at stake in Washington, with 101 to be awarded proportionally based on the results of the caucuses. The remaining 17 are superdelegates, or party leaders who can back any candidate they wish - though a majority of them have said they support former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Washington has the most delegates at stake among the three states holding Democratic caucuses on Saturday. The other two states are Hawaii and Alaska.

Clinton has taken a strong lead in the delegate race, having won 1,214 pledged delegates so far in primaries and caucuses, according to The Associated Press’ count. Sanders has won 911 delegates.

When factoring in superdelegates, Clinton holds a 1,681-937 lead. It takes 2,383 delegates to win the nomination

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