This story was written with Janel Davis:
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders swept into Atlanta on Tuesday with a prediction for the more than 4,800 who packed a Morehouse College arena to hear him speak.
“We started in Georgia way, way, way down,” he said. “And I think we’re going to win right here.”
Sanders is hoping to ride a wave of momentum after a narrow defeat in Iowa and a 22-point victory in New Hampshire. But Hillary Clinton is staking her campaign on strong support from minorities, who dominate the Democratic electorate in Georgia and other Southern states.
That's one of the reasons he visited Morehouse, a historically black college near the heart of downtown Atlanta. He earned repeated applause from the crowd by sticking to his stump speech, laden with calls to raise the minimum wage, fight Wall Street greed and generally upend the Washington establishment.
“We need an economy for all of us, not just the 1 percent,” he said, invoking one of his applause lines. “We understand that a $7.25 federal minimum wage is a starvation wage.”
In interviews with more than a dozen students who waited for more than three hours to hear Sanders speak, many were eager to tear down the idea that the South will be Clinton’s so-called firewall.
Among them was Donique Smith, who said she once was torn between the desire to support the nation’s first female president and the appeal of the disheveled septuagenarian willing to take on the Washington establishment.
“We all know we’re in the African-American mecca in Atlanta. And we are looking for who is actually looking out for us,” Smith said. “And people are beginning to hear him out.”
Candice Anderson, a student from Alabama State University, another HBCU, rode a bus to the Sanders event at Morehouse with more than 50 other students from her school and nearby Tuskegee University.
Anderson has supported Sanders since he announced his candidacy and admires his dedication to tackle big issues like reforming the criminal justice system, police brutality and social equality.
“We need somebody who is in political power who can actually make the change and get things done,” Anderson said after Tuesday’s rally. “He’s not just saying these things because he wants to be president, he’s saying these things because he actually believes them.”
The event also featured a speech from Sanders’ newest supporter: State Sen. Vincent Fort, who bucked Georgia’s establishment by flipping from Clinton’s camp Tuesday to support Sanders.
“This year,” he said to cheers, “we have a unique and historic opportunity to truly change America.”