With Tuesday’s primary beckoning, the great disrupters of American politics are swarming the Bay Area as Bernie Sanders on Wednesday rallied several thousand fans in Palo Alto and San Jose braced itself for a Donald Trump rally.
The flurry of activity comes as polls show Sanders and Hillary Clinton heading for a photo finish in California, while Trump, who held a rally Wednesday in Sacramento, completes what amounts to a victory tour in the state.
The two Democrats have become fixtures in the region in recent few weeks, but Trump is making his first Bay Area appearance since April, when hundreds of protesters nearly kept him from addressing the state Republican Convention inside a Burlingame hotel.
Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, speaks at an Asian-American and Pacific Islander forum at the Cubberly Community Center in Palo Alto, Calif., on Wednesday, June 1, 2016. (Gary Reyes)
In a bizarre scene carried live on television, Trump and his entourage had to abandon their vehicles on a service road next to Highway 101, then walk single-file between concrete barriers before sneaking into the hotel through a back door.
The Trump campaign isn’t expecting similar disturbances this time around when the surprise GOP torchbearer speaks at the San Jose Convention Center at 7 p.m. on Thursday.
“The San Jose Police Department has been fantastic to work with,” said Tim Clark, Trump’s California political director. “The protesters are a very small group, and we’re not worried about them. It’s going to be an exciting and momentous rally, and that is what we are focused on.”
Expecting as many as of 15,000 Trump supporters and plenty of protesters, San Jose police Wednesday night announced that they will close several streets near the convention center beginning at noon. Closures will include Market Street at William Street; Market Street, south of San Carlos Street; South First Street at San Salvador Street; and Almaden Boulevard at Balbach Street.
“We will do everything possible to protect the First Amendment, those attending, our community, and our officers,” San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia said in a prepared statement.
While the nonstop campaign is disrupting some people’s routines, Bron Rich, a Mountain View resident, who left work early to hear Sanders speak in Palo Alto, said he’s enjoying the attention.
“It’s just a bunch of political BS, but the fact that these people are coming is amazing,” he said.
Just a month ago, the Bay Area seemed poised for another ho-hum primary season after Trump wrapped up the Republican nomination and Clinton built a seemingly insurmountable lead on the Democratic side.
But Sanders’ refusal to concede has turned California into a high-stakes duel for the Democrats. A Sanders victory in the most populous state would badly bruise Clinton and could push the party further leftward.
Bernie Sanders, Democratic presidential candidate, waves farewell to the crowd at a rally at the Cubberly Community Center in Palo Alto, Calif., on Wednesday, June 1, 2016. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group) ( Gary Reyes )
With polls showing both millennials and independents — two of the least reliable voting groups — flocking in ever greater numbers to his side, Sanders wrapped his rally at a Palo Alto football field with a plea for them to flock to polling stations on Tuesday.
“If the turnout is low June 7, we will lose,” he warned. “If the turnout is high we will win. And, if the turnout is very high, we will win by large numbers.”
Earlier in the day, a Sanders made direct appeal to a constituency that is up for grabs in next week’s primary: Asian-Americans.
Sanders stuck to his basic campaign themes during a one-hour forum with Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. But he also brought up his own family’s history with the Holocaust when a Muslim audience member talked about her bouts with prejudice.
“Our greatness is that we have people here from 50 to 100 nations,” Sanders told the estimated 300 people gathered in a gymnasium. “In the year 2016 with our first African-American president, I would hope that we would have learned the lesson that bigotry is unacceptable in the United States.”
Sanders is getting a late start in courting Asians. Clinton secured the endorsement of most of the state’s Asian elected officials in January and has phone banking operations in multiple Asian languages.
A poll conducted in April by Asian-American Pacific Islander DATA of all Democratic and Republican candidates found Clinton the first choice of 33 percent of likely Asian voters in California and Sanders second at 21 percent.
“If Hillary Clinton barely wins California, the Asian-American community will be critical to that victory,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of politics at UC Riverside who helped oversee the poll.
Numerous polls show both Clinton and Sanders beating Trump easily in the state, but the Republican front-runner insists he has a shot to turn the Golden State red, and that is what is bringing him to San Jose, Clark said.
“This is a battleground state for the Trump campaign,” he said. “Mr. Trump has said he intends to win California, and these events are all about building our base out here, growing our enthusiasm and preparing for the November election.”
Half a dozen California State University faculty members outraged by allegations of Trump University’s scams joined several small groups of low-key protesters outside Donald Trump’s Wednesday rally at a private airport in Sacramento.
Many of Preston Rudy’s students at San Jose State University are first-generation immigrants who wouldn’t know the difference between a real university and a fake one. If they’d signed up for Trump U instead of SJSU, they would have been defrauded, he said.
“Donald Trump is a rapacious businessman who uses students like ATMs,” said Rudy, 59, who lives in Sacramento and commutes to the Bay Area to teach sociology because he can’t afford the region’s high cost of living. “He tried to fleece people out of their hard-earned money with that university label. It’s not right.”
Danny Murillo, 35, said he couldn’t understand why Trump supporters had waited in line, starting as early as 11 a.m., to see a man speak who has no respect for immigrants or basic American rights, like free speech and freedom to practice a religion of choice.
“I don’t see what these people see in him,” said Murillo, a Sacramento State University student. “I think Trump’s supporters use him as a mouthpiece for their own hateful feelings.”
The line to enter Trump’s Sacramento rally began forming before noon Wednesday and as the line grew throughout the afternoon, the temperatures at this private airport climbed above 100.
Trump’s private jet landed early, so his speech began early, much to the disappointment of hundreds of supporters and members of the media, who were locked out by Secret Service and local law enforcement officials.
Outside the entrance to the rally, sellers hawked Trump tee shirts, flags and his popular Make America Great Again hats in red, white, blue and camouflage patterns.
Many supporters held Veterans for Trump signs that were distributed inside the rally by the campaign — a few days after Trump came under fire for delaying a promised donation to veterans.
In his speech, Trump lashed out at President Barack Obama after he waded forcefully into the presidential campaign.
“This is a president who doesn’t have a clue,” Trump said. “If he campaigns, that means I’m allowed to hit him, just like I hit Bill Clinton.”
Earlier Wednesday in Elkhart, Indiana, the president warned against the Republican Party’s economic policies and said the GOP was misleading Americans on the condition of the economy.
Trump said foreign leaders view Obama as a “total lightweight.”
The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report. Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435. Follow him on Twitter at Matthew_Artz.