ST. LOUIS – Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said during a campaign visit to St. Louis on Monday that the "energy and excitement" of his supporters make him the Democrat most likely to defeat President Donald Trump in November.
Sanders spoke to hundreds of supporters inside the Stifel Theatre a day before voters in Missouri and five other states go to the polls. He downplayed questions about electability, saying it's his campaign that offers the enthusiasm to defeat the president.
"In a general election, which candidate can generate the enthusiasm and the excitement and the voter turnout we need?" Sanders asked. "If you want to defeat Trump, which all Democrats do and the majority of independents do and some Republicans do, we are that campaign."
It's been a rough few weeks for Sanders, the self-proclaimed Democratic socialist who was seen as the front-runner before slipping badly on Super Tuesday last week. Former Vice President Joe Biden's 10 Super Tuesday wins, combined with a slew of endorsements from other top Democrats and former presidential contenders, catapulted him into front-runner status.
Biden was in St. Louis on Saturday, hosting a rally at Kiener Plaza downtown. Supporters of both candidates are speaking at several Missouri campaign events leading up to the vote.
While Biden might seem a logical favorite in increasingly conservative Missouri, Sanders nearly defeated eventual nominee Hillary Clinton in the state in 2016. Clinton won by less than 2,000 votes.
Whichever candidate wins the Democratic primary faces long odds to beat Trump in Missouri.
Missouri was long considered a bellwether state after siding with the winning candidate every year but once during the 1900s, wrongly going with Democrat Adlai Stevenson over incumbent President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. Missouri hasn't sided with a Democrat since opting for Bill Clinton in 1996 and Trump defeated Clinton by nearly 20 percentage points.
Many of those at the Sanders rally were young. Jessie Thornton, a 22-year-old political organizer from St. Louis, dismissed talk that Biden is better suited to beat Trump.
"Bernie has the integrity to stand up to Donald Trump," Thornton said. "I don't believe Biden moves people. I believe people voting their heart and soul will show up for Bernie."
Another Sanders supporter at the rally, 19-year-old college student Alec McAulay of St. Louis County, said Sanders has proven that he's a true alternative to the president.
"I think Biden agrees with Trump too much, more than any Democrat should," McAulay said.
Sanders said the key to beating Trump is generating turnout, including from disenfranchised voters who often don't go to the polls.
"In order to defeat Trump we need the largest voter turnout in history," Sanders said. "That is just a fact. And here is the other fact, that is our campaign is the campaign of energy and excitement."