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WASHINGTON — A few months ago, on a cold, dreary day in February, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and self-described democratic socialist, stood surrounded by a small crowd of socialists and liberals at a rally here.
At the time, he had just finished a three-hour speech to a crowd of about 50 mostly young people. His remarks reflected his views about a number of issues including Medicare for All and tuition-free public college. After a brief break, he was surrounded by a few more people.
By the time he stood on stage last week for his 2020 presidential campaign kickoff rally, he was flanked by about 400 people to a cheering, expectant sea of supporters. The audience, mostly young and black, appeared more diverse than usual.
The rally here, a few blocks away from the Capitol, was supposed to be more intimate. But Sanders had packed it with supporters who seemed to fill up the seats almost all the way to the back. A couple of local organizations and the International Socialist Organization — the socialist party of which Sanders is a member — were present, offering help.
The mood was festive, as long lines of people waiting for food and drinks formed throughout the day long before the rally began. An organizer dressed in a Bernie Sanders 2020 t-shirt circulated through the crowd handing out T-shirts and other swag, according to one witness, before returning to join the crowd at the back to help with overflow. At one point, someone from the International Socialist Organization brought out a bag of doughnuts, and volunteers distributed them to the crowd.
The mood of the crowd changed at times as the campaign officially launched with Sanders speaking for about 50 minutes. The former congressman told several jokes in between, then talked about how the media and establishment have misrepresented his views, and then criticized it. When he finished, cheers and jeers rained down.
A little later, Sanders introduced the first candidate for president since the Great Depression, former Vice President Joe Biden, who was introduced by another candidate, U.S. Rep