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Bernie Sanders holds campaign rally at Tacoma Dome ahead of March primary

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TACOMA, Wash. -- Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders held a campaign rally Monday night in Washington, a state he handily won in the 2016 caucuses.

The Vermont senator’s visit comes just three weeks ahead of Democrats casting their ballots in the March 10 presidential primary that the state party will use for the first time to allocate delegates to candidates, with 89 delegates to be awarded based on the results.

Sanders, coming off a win in the New Hampshire primary, will be joined at the Presidents’ Day rally at the Tacoma Dome by U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, who is chairing Sanders’ Washington state campaign. Actor Tim Robbins will speak at the rally as well, and the band Portugal. The Man will perform.

Thousands of people lined up hours ahead of the evening rally. Cali Randall, an 18-year-old high school senior from Tacoma, arrived with two friends and was carrying a #Babes4Bernie sign. Randall was excited to be voting in her first presidential election, and to start with a vote for Sanders in the presidential primary.

“Bernie has a movement behind him,” she said.

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Earlier in the day, Sanders spoke at a rally in Richmond, California. The state — which offers more delegates than any other state — is among the more than dozen states where voters will cast their ballots on so-called Super Tuesday, March 3. Two contests come before Super Tuesday — caucuses in Nevada on Saturday and a primary in South Carolina on Feb. 29.

Last year, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a measure moving the state’s presidential primary from May to the second Tuesday in March. The move was an effort to involve more voters and make Washington more relevant during the national delegate chase. And while Republicans had previously used the primary to allocate delegates, this is the first year in which both parties will use the results of the primary instead of the caucuses.

The state Democratic Party’s central committee voted last year to start using a hybrid system that uses the state’s vote-by-mail system for a presidential primary to apportion delegates to candidates, and caucuses and conventions to select which delegates will represent the state at the national convention in Milwaukee.

About 230,000 Washington Democrats turned out to caucus across the state in March 2016, while 1.4 million cast a ballot in the May presidential primary. Hillary Clinton, who went on to become the Democratic nominee, won the non-binding Democratic primary in Washington that year. Of the 1.4 million ballots cast, more than 802,000 ballots were cast by Democrats, even though their vote didn’t count.

With the change by the state party, a much broader Democratic electorate will be involved this year in deciding the winner of the state. Ballots will be mailed to the state’s nearly 4.5 million registered voters on Friday.

Washington state has no party registration but since 2008, the presidential primary requires voters to attest to being either Republican or Democrat.

Eight candidates remain in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, who placed fourth in the New Hampshire primary, has scheduled a rally in Seattle for Saturday.

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