The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bernie Sanders draws his biggest crowd yet — in Arizona of all places

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

Bernie Sanders drew more than 11,000 people to a rally Saturday night in downtown Phoenix -- the largest crowd to date for a presidential candidate whose audiences have been swelling in recent months.

The Vermont senator, who has emerged as the leading alternative to Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination, got a rock-star-like reception from supporters who streamed into a cavernous lower-level room of the city's convention center.

Aides to the self-described democratic socialist had originally booked a Phoenix theater that could accommodate fewer than half the number of people who turned out. The crowd estimate of more than 11,000 people was provided by staff at the convention center, where Sanders also appeared Saturday at a convention of progressive activists.

[In Phoenix, activists disrupt forum featuring candidates O’Malley, Sanders]

"Somebody told me people are giving up on the political process," Sanders said as he greeted the crowd Saturday night. "Not what I see here tonight."

He delivered largely the same stump speech he has been for months, lamenting the level of income inequality in the country and railing against the outsized political influence of the "billionaire class."

"Their greed has got to end, and we are going to end it for them," Sanders said, drawing chants of "Bernie, Bernie, Bernie."

While few Democratic elites give the 73-year-old Sanders much chance of winning the nomination, his campaign is being taken increasing seriously by the Clinton camp.

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Saturday night's crowd -- in a reliably red state -- surpassed Sanders's previous largest draw, a few weeks ago in Madison, Wis., where close to 10,000 people turned out.

Among those in the audience Saturday night was Amanda Appelbaum, a stay-at-home mom in Phoenix with a baby on the way who wore a T-shirt proclaiming "Bernie Effin Sanders 2016."

"In the last 10 years, I've felt I've had no reason to vote or focus on politics," Appelbaum, 29, said, saying Sanders was different. "I love that he doesn't take corporate donations, that it's all about being elected by the people."

Brett Barry, 50, a real-estate broker from Scottsdale, said Sanders drew such a large audience because "we're hungry here."

"Some of our liberal friends have given up because they don't think [Sanders] has a realistic chance," Barry said. "I get tired of hearing that."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a White House contender in 2016, is known for his stances on budget issues and war. Here are his takes on Obamacare, Social Security and more. (Video: Julie Percha/The Washington Post)