RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Sen. Bernie Sanders returned to North Carolina to rally an estimated 5,000-plus supporters in the final days before the state’s Democratic presidential primary.
The Vermont senator spoke Friday at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. North Carolina is one of five states holding presidential primaries next Tuesday. Hundreds of supporters arrived early to land a seat inside.
Before speaking, Sanders told CBS North Carolina, “The American people want change and they understand that establishment politics and establishment economics just is not going to do it in the year 2016.”
Sanders said the North Carolina primary would be “very important.”
The Vermont senator was introduced by supporter and Democratic Congresswoman from Hawaii Tulsi Gabbard and spoke to an enthusiastic crowd.
At the high-energy rally Sanders hit on his major topics of regulation Wall Street, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, and his desire to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling that allows Super PACs to donate unlimited money to political campaigns.
“We don’t listen to billionaires. We listen to the American people,” Sanders said.
The Sanders’ campaign released a television ad in North Carolina today ahead of his appearance that addressed the impact trade policies have had in shutting down factories in mills in the state.
“Our disastrous trade policies for the past 30 or 40 years have had a horrendous impact on the lives of millions of working Americans,” Sanders told the crowd.
“I understood way back in the early 1990s what these trade agreements were about,” Sanders said. “Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, supported virtually all of these disastrous trade agreements.”
The senator also spoke of his belief that American citizens deserve universal healthcare.
“Healthcare is the right of all people, not a privilege. That is why I believe we must move to a Medicare-for-all healthcare program,” he said.
To those who say his plans are too ambitious and unrealistic, Sanders said the will of the American people is more powerful than the politicians and interest groups who say things like what Sanders is proposing can’t get done.
“When people have the courage to stand up and fight back, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish. That is how change happens.”
Sanders also addressed Donald Trump, who held a rally Wednesday in Fayetteville that caused controversy when a protester was punched in the face by a 78-year-old man.
“In terms of Trump, the American people will not support a president who insults Mexicans, who insults Muslims, who insults women virtually every day, who insults African Americans.”
The senator hit Trump again when he told the crowd why he would win the election in November.
“We will win this election because the American people understand that bringing us together trumps dividing us up…and love trumps hatred.”
Approximately 2,400 people were inside the auditorium for the rally. According to Sanders’ campaign, another 3,000 were outside listening to the speech. Some in attendance climbed trees to get a better view of Sanders when he addressed the crowd outside before his speech inside.
Sanders supporter Ansh Grover came all the way from Maryland to see the presidential hopeful. He was on his way to Miami when he heard about Friday’s rally.
“For 30-plus years he has spoken for people. That’s something you don’t see with politicians today,” said Grover.
Other supporters agree with Grover.
“He cares about the future. He cares about the little man and as a student and a young person, his desire to make the world a better place for us is, I think, what attracts a lot of the young voters out. You know, he cares about the things like student debt and not being able to get a job after college,” said Kellie Murphy of Mebane.
Sanders last held a public event in North Carolina last October, when more than 9,000 people attended a Sunday night rally.
“I think a lot of young people right now are focused on social justice and we can see that Bernie’s been focused on that ever since college. He’s been out protesting. He’s been kind of trying to start a political revolution and make sure that everyone’s voice is heard,” said Taylor Holst of Holly Springs.
Sanders’ primary rival Hillary Clinton held a rally Thursday afternoon in Durham.
As for the Republicans, Trump visited Concord in addition to Fayetteville this week, while Ted Cruz was in Raleigh and Charlotte. Cruz also is expected to attend an event Sunday in Concord and an event in Fayetteville on Monday.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.