FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. (FOX 9) - Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders visited the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday afternoon as he seeks back-to-back wins in a battleground state targeted by President Donald Trump.
It was hard to miss Sanders at the fair; such a large crowd formed around him that people spilled onto the streets, making it difficult for other attendees to pass by on their way to attractions and food vendors.
Sanders reminded supporters that he had authored several of the progressive policies that they favor, including Medicare-for-All health insurance. Sanders had been the lone champion of such proposals in the 2016 presidential race, when he won Minnesota's caucus by a wide margin, but several 2020 candidates have crowded the Democratic party's left flank.
"One of the things I learned is that many of the ideas that I talked about four years ago, that everybody said were crazy, are now being talked about by every other Democratic candidate," Sanders told a crowd outside the Minnesota Public Radio booth.
In an interview with FOX 9 before arriving at the fair, Sanders said he could win Minnesota's primary regardless of whether fellow presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar remains in the race by the time voters here go to the polls in March 2020.
Sanders called Klobuchar "a friend," but said he and the Minnesota senator look at political issues "a little differently." Klobuchar is among the most moderate Democratic candidates, and she does not support Sanders' proposal to end private health insurance and move Americans to government-provided health plans. She is not among the top tier of candidates in polling or fundraising.
In the wide-ranging interview, Sanders also dismissed concerns that people would not want to leave their employer-sponsored health insurance, said he would return to Minnesota to campaign, and said he wanted the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.
Rivalry with Warren
Sanders' first visit to Minnesota of the 2020 cycle happened five days after Elizabeth Warren, his main rival for the progressive base, drew thousands of supporters to a rally in St. Paul.
He downplayed when asked whether he and Warren can both compete with former Vice President Joe Biden, the current frontrunner in polls.
"It's six months before the first vote is cast in Iowa. Things are going to settle out," Sanders said. "Ultimately, this is a decision made by the people, by the voters of the Democratic primary process."
Sanders and Warren are both touting crime plans that eliminate cash bail, which they say lead to thousands of low-income people sitting in jails while wealthier people post bail and go home. Their plans also legalize marijuana and end mandatory minimum prison sentences that judges must follow.
But Sanders says his plan will go further, reducing the prison population by half. He said that would "absolutely not" mean violent criminals would be released from prison.
He advocated for his Medicare-for-All proposal and predicted that people would have no qualms about leaving their employer-sponsored health insurance.
"I hear that a lot: 'People love their insurance companies.' I haven't heard too many of those people," Sanders said. "What people do love are their doctors, in many cases.
"What we do in Medicare-for-All is provide freedom of choice. You can go to any doctor you want. Nothing changes. You can go to any hospital you want."
President Trump has said he wants to win Minnesota in 2020, something no Republican presidential candidate has done since 1972. Trump lost the state narrowly in 2016.
Sanders said Minnesota is a "very important" battleground, and he plans to make more campaign stops here.
At the State Fair, Sanders called Trump a liar and a racist.
He told supporters that he would advocate for sweeping changes on policies ranging from higher taxes on stock market transactions to climate change.
"We have gotta be realistic. Being realistic is not meaning what some Republican may or may not support today. Realistic is, do we save this planet or do we not?" Sanders said.
At one point during a Q&A segment, an audience member asked Sanders via social media whether -- at 77 years old -- he was too old for the presidency. Sanders, a prolific campaigner, responded that the person should follow him on the campaign trail.
At another point, some in the audience cheered when a question included a reference to conservative billionaire David Koch, who died Saturday. Sanders held up his hand to stop them and later admonished the clapping as inappropriate.
Sanders was scheduled to participate in a fundraiser at the Hook and Ladder Theater in Minneapolis on Saturday evening. As of earlier in the day, tickets across most of the donor levels had sold out, including all tickets for $500 and less.