- Associated Press - Friday, May 20, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Sen. Bernie Sanders made a fiery appeal Friday to Democratic voters in New Mexico to help boost his campaign’s momentum going into the final round of state primaries, acknowledging he will need to win “almost all” of the remaining contests to get the nomination.

Sanders kicked off a two-day campaign swing through heavily Hispanic New Mexico with a trio of public rallies that started Friday ahead of the state’s vote in the final round of primary elections.

He vowed to take his fight for the nomination to the Democrats’ national convention this summer, and railed against superdelegates that backed Clinton before primary votes were cast.

“We need to go into the Democratic convention in late July with great momentum,” he told a cheering crowd of 2,500 people in a packed community college gymnasium in Santa Fe. “We need to win all or almost all of the states that are up on June 7.”

Sanders took the stage to chants in Spanish of, “Yes, you can.” Native American singers warmed up the crowd and supporters waved pro-Sanders signs overhead with the words, “A future to believe.” Doors were closed with 600 people still in line outside.

Sanders invoked New Mexico’s high rates of poverty and its last-place ranking among states for high school graduation rates as a call for political action, while condemning the corrosive influence of billionaires - including Donald Trump - on politics.

“New Mexico wants a government that represents all of us, not just the 1 percent,” Sanders said.

Jubilant supporters, from grade-schoolers to octogenarians, expressed admiration for the candidate. More than a few wore custom Bernie Sanders tie-dye shirts.

“Whether he wins or loses isn’t as important,” said Gary Oakley, 53, of Santa Fe, a professional artist. “It’s just to let him know that we’re behind him.”

At an evening rally in Albuquerque, Sanders got a rise with his support for a living wage and the need to reform campaign finance, along with what he called disastrous trade agreements that have hampered the nation’s economy. He touched on everything from clean water and fracking to the war on drugs and the need for better mental health services.

On Saturday, he’ll visit the town of Vado, not far from where the borders of New Mexico, Texas and Mexico intersect.

Sanders and Hillary Clinton are chasing a share of New Mexico’s 43 delegate votes. Five out of nine state superdelegates have expressed their commitment to Clinton, with the remainder uncommitted.

Sanders is coming off a primary victory Tuesday in Oregon and a near tie in Kentucky, but he still has no clear path to victory in the delegate count.

The Vermont senator is the first presidential candidate to visit New Mexico. Donald Trump on Thursday announced plans to visit early next week, overlapping with a scheduled visit by Bill Clinton to campaign on behalf of his wife in the cities of Espanola and later Albuquerque.

The state is shaping up as a proving ground for appeal to Hispanic voters. Over 45 percent of New Mexico residents identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino - a higher percentage than non-Hispanic whites.

In Santa Fe, Sanders took Trump to task for supporting mass deportations of immigrants living in the country illegally.

“I believe we have got to end this Donald Trump rhetoric of someone rounding up 11 million people,” he said. “That kind of hatred and bigotry has got to end.”

Albuquerque-based pollster Brian Sanderoff says at least half of Democratic primary voters in the state will be Hispanic, a demographic where Hillary appears to hold an edge.

On Saturday, former Interior Sec. Ken Salazar plans to tour the heavily Democratic northern end of the state for an initiative dubbed “Hispanics for Hillary.”

State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, is helping Sanders drum up support among Latinos but acknowledges it’s an uphill climb.

“I think they’re getting more and more curious about Sanders,” he said. “He comes from such a small New England state with such a tiny Hispanic population. People just don’t know his name.”

Beyond New Mexico, the tone in both Democratic campaigns has grown more acrimonious after last weekend’s fracas at the Nevada Democratic Convention. A group of Sanders supporters lashed out over rules they claimed favored Clinton by shouting obscenities, brandishing chairs and threatening the state party chairwoman.

Sanders has defiantly asserted since then that his supporters were treated unfairly, as he has sharpened his critique of the Democratic Party and Clinton’s reliance on wealthy donors.

In Santa Fe, the two Democratic presidential campaigns work out of the same brown adobe union hall, with volunteers gathering at night to dial up potential voters.

“We have agreed to co-exist respectfully and courteously with each other,” said Susan Popovich, the Sanders office manager and retired union organizer for the California Teachers Association.

___

Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this report from Albuquerque.


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