Sanders stars with Biden, Warren absent at California forum

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LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) – Bernie Sanders was greeted with booming cheers at a gathering of California Democrats Saturday, underscoring his popularity with the party’s liberal base as he looks to capture the biggest prize in the presidential primary season next year.

The decisions by Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren to skip a weekend gathering of the California Democratic Party less than three months before voting begins gave rival candidates an opportunity to make inroads with the party’s most devoted activists, and Sanders’ reception made clear he remains among the favorites, three years after he won 46 percent of the California vote in the state’s 2016 Democratic primary in a losing bid against Hillary Clinton.

He assured the crowd he was in good health, just months after suffering a heart attack, and rose from a chair to his feet to apparently emphasize the point during a candidate forum hosted by Univision, the Spanish-language television station. He earned cheers when fending off suggestions that his agenda was pulling the party too far to the political left. “I don’t think so, I honestly don’t,” he said.

After the forum concluded, dozens of Sanders supporters staged an impromptu rally in the lobby of the convention center, unfurling banners and chanting his slogan, “Not me, us.”

The convention stage gave candidates a chance to address devoted Democrats who are the backbone of the party, who are coveted for their votes as well as potential volunteers and donors. Mail-in ballots for California’s primary will begin going out to voters on Feb. 3, the same day as the Iowa caucuses.

On a busy weekend of politicking, Kamala Harris played to her home-state strength Friday night at two gatherings at local bars, one hosted by Equality California at a gay bar, where she recounted her record of marrying gay couples in 2004 as San Francisco district attorney and called for greater protections for transgender women.

The crowd roared when she declared herself the candidate who could go toe-to-toe with Donald Trump.

Through the convention hall on Saturday volunteers for various campaigns handed out stickers, led chants and signed up volunteers. Amy Klobuchar served slushies with a construction workers union, while the table for Elizabeth Warren set up plastic cups to represent her different plans and asked voters to place small black “billionaire tears” in the cup marking their favorite plan.

Warren, though, was absent from the gathering.

FILE – In this Nov. 8, 2019, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., addresses supporters during an election rally on the campus of Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)
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