Sen. Bernie Sanders brings ‘Come Together and Fight Back’ tour to SLC

Posted at 7:21 AM, Apr 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-22 00:11:42-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who rode a wave of progressive support to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, returned to one of the states that offered him a strong base.

This time it was to unite a somewhat fractured party against a common enemy: President Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled congress.

Sen. Sanders appeared alongside newly elected Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez as part of a nationwide "unity tour." They spoke to a crowd of about 3,000 Democrats and progressives in Salt Lake City on Friday.

"This is not about Bernie Sanders. This is not about Tom Perez. This is not about anybody else," Sanders told the crowd. "You know what this whole thing is about? It’s about you! And it’s about your children and it’s about your parents, and it’s about the environment."

Watch the rally here:

The "Come Together and Fight Back" tour is meant to unify Democrats who have seen fracturing and infighting following last year's losses in the November election. Progressives within the party backed Sanders, and there were still signs of resentment against establishment Democrats. Perez was booed by some in the crowd as he stepped onto the stage.

Speaking to reporters ahead of his speech, Perez insisted Democrats were coming together to resist the president.

"Donald Trump is a uniter, there’s no doubt about that," he said.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez speaks to reporters ahead of a rally in Utah on Friday, April 21, 2017. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Friday's rally was mocked by Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans who mocked Democrats' message as "falling apart." He said Democrats were embracing a socialist in Sanders and Democrats should have viewed the 2016 election as a "wake up call."

"Based on the reactions of Utah Democrats it appears going forward their strategy is to embrace socialism," Evans told reporters. "I believe that is a non-starter in Utah because socialism is contrary to our very fabric."

Perez pledged to no longer write off states like Utah, where Democrats are a significant minority, offering money and resources to get candidates elected here. He earned cheers from the crowd whenever he brought up the fact that Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz is leaving office.

Even Sanders chided the party from the stage.

"The Democratic Party has kind of turned its back on a lot of states in this country and I think that was a mistake. I think Tom Perez being here today tells you those days are over," he said, later adding: "What the Democratic Party has also got to become is a grassroots party. A party where decisions are made from the bottom on up."

Like his previous stops in Utah, Sanders was greeted with wild cheers. His speech on Friday sounded a lot like a presidential campaign stump speech where he touched on issues that made him popular: universal health care, free college tuition, immigration and equal rights.

Merchandise supporting Bernie Sanders running in 2020 is sold outside a Democratic party rally in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 21, 2017. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Supporters certainly hoped he would run for president again in 2020. Zala Long said she planned to give the DNC a chance.

"I came for Bernie Sanders, but I left inspired by everyone who spoke, I think," she told FOX 13.

The Utah Democratic Party, one of the few to see gains in local elections last year, hoped to turn Sanders supporters into political activists.

"We’ve been really trying to train all of these activists. We’ve got this huge surge of women, which is phenomenal," said Utah Democratic Party Executive Director Lauren Littlfield. "We’ve been trying to train people. Train people to run for office, train people to run campaigns."

Sanders urged Utah Democrats to get involved, joking that in a GOP-dominated state they have "no place to go but up."

"If the whole country looks at Utah, because if you can do it here -- and I believe you can -- there is no state in the country where we cannot do it," he said.