As presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders took the stage at the arena at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on Tuesday afternoon, he was greeted by a sea of cellphones, bobbing blue signs and a crowd chanting: "Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!"

Tim Whiting, 64, drove from his home in Brainerd to hear Sanders speak and said he was impressed with the turnout, as nearly 6,000 people filed into the DECC arena.

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"It feels like he's really gaining momentum. This is an eye opener," he said, noting that the desire for political change was palpable.

"That sentiment is there. It won't go away, no matter who gets elected," he said.

Owen Mageau, a senior at Duluth East who's about to turn 18, said he was eager to cast his first vote for Sanders.

"I think he's the best candidate to help people our age with things like tuition and health care costs," Mageau said.

Jack Norlen, a classmate of Mageau's who also attended Tuesday's rally, said: "It's pretty cool to see an A-list presidential candidate right here in Duluth. It's something I've never seen before. And we will have a say for the first time in this election."

Joe Howard pulled his daughter, Katie, out of third-grade classes at St. John's Catholic School to experience the rally and better grasp how the nation's electoral system works.

Howard, who works as a nurse at Essentia Health, said he supports Sanders' proposal to switch Americans to a single-payer, universal medical system.

"Our health care system is so broken right now," Howard said. "Obamacare is a good start, but it doesn't go far enough. We see it all the time. Just one hospitalization can financially ruin someone. I don't think that something as basic as health care should be the number one cause of bankruptcy."

Mike Olson, 56, of Duluth, waved a large, homemade sign in support of Sanders during the rally. He said he's planning to take part in his first presidential caucus this year.

A retired member of the Duluth Police Department, Olson said he has been active in Sanders' campaign, even serving as a volunteer staffer at the Minnesota State Fair last summer.

"For most of my adult life, the politicians have said whatever they think people want to hear, and you vote for the least offensive one," Olson said. " When you examine Bernie Sanders, he has voted with his conscience and worked for these things his entire career. He's believable. Hopefully we're right about that and he can actually accomplish something."

Meredith TwoCrow took the day off from work to drive from Lake Vermilion to see Sanders. As Sanders spoke of his support for a three-month paid family leave to care for a new baby, she held up her daughter, 1-year-old Aniyah TwoCrow.

"She's feeling the Bern herself," Meredith said of Aniyah before the speech began.

TwoCrow said she likes Sanders' stances on social issues and on raising the minimum wage, as well as his outlook on war - and that he supports Native Americans and diversity.

"He's a regular everyday person and that's what we need leading the country," she said.

Virgil Boehland of Esko held a green campaign sign supporting the late Sen. Paul Wellstone above the crowd during Sanders' speech. He said he wanted to bring the sign because Sanders reminds him of Wellstone, calling them "two peas in a pod."

Boehland has always followed Sanders' Congressional career. He considers Sanders a hero, like he considered Wellstone a hero, he said, tearing up while he spoke of Wellstone.

In addition to drawing ardent supporters, the event also attracted many undecided voters.

Duluth couple Ashley and Sarah Neenan said they're probably going to support Sanders but suggested that Hillary Clinton is a strong alternative.

"I think we're going to support him," Sarah Neenan said. "I think he interests us more than Hillary does, but even if Hillary gets the nomination we'll support her. I think overall Bernie kind of scares our country, which in my mind is a good thing. But I don't think that necessarily lends him a good chance of getting the nomination."

Kelson Thomas, 22, of Duluth, said he's not sure who he's going to support in the presidential race. He said he "leans left," but is also intrigued by some Republican candidates, including Rand Paul, who is also cast himself as an outsider in the campaign.

"I figure as long as you have the opportunity to come somewhere and learn about someone's political views, there's no reason not to," Thomas said.

Alissa Hillerin, a senior from Moorhead State, started the drive to Duluth at 6 a.m. Tuesday, but said she wasn't disappointed by Sander's 62-minute speech.

"My hands are sore from clapping," she said.

Mitchell Farmer-Lies, a junior at the University of Minnesota Duluth, said he left Tuesday's event more convinced than ever that Sanders can win the presidency.

Farmer-Lies has already amassed at least $30,000 in student debt as an undergraduate and said: "I might want to go to graduate school, if I can afford it." He likes Sanders' proposal to offer higher education at public institutions at no cost to qualified students.

Farmer-Lies predicts the youth vote could play a powerful role in propelling Sanders toward the White House

"I think he appeals to a lot people who maybe aren't traditional voters - like people our age," he said.

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