LOUISVILLE -- Kentucky's reputation as an emerging Republican stronghold didn't stop U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders from swinging through the Bluegrass State Tuesday night, where a crowd welcomed him with deafening cheers and standing ovations.
Sanders didn't draw nearly as big an audience as President Donald Trump did when he came to town for a rally last month, but his message of unity was well-received Tuesday at the Louisville Palace. He and Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez appeared together during the second stop on their week-long "Come Together and Fight Back" tour.
At a time when the U.S. is led by a billionaire president, Sanders' condemnation of "the incredible greed of corporate America" Tuesday night was met with enthusiasm even though it was old territory for the independent senator from Vermont.
He often focused on income inequality during his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination last year. "We have millions of people who are living in pain," he said. "This is America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world. People should not be living in that kind of despair."
Even though Sanders' bid for the presidency wasn't successful, 18-year-old Shanze Arshad, who studies at Centre College in Danville, said the outspoken senator is still fighting against a racist, Islamophobic, homophobic - "every kind of phobic" - attitude that she believes Trump has brought to this country. As she waited in line to see Sanders speak, she said she expected to hear a message of perseverance.
"I hope to hear - and I think I will hear - that even though we've elected a president like Donald Trump ... we can't stop fighting, no matter how hard it might be," she said.
Sanders urged the crowd at the Louisville Palace to have the courage to think big, go beyond their comfort zones and reach out to other people in their state, even if they voted for Trump, who easily won Kentucky's electoral votes last fall. "The issue in front of us is whether or not we have the guts to take on a billionaire class and all of their power," he said. "I say yes, we do."
Sanders and Perez have embarked on this cross-country speaking tour at a time when the Democratic Party is focused on uniting voters who oppose Trump's administration and preparing for the midterm elections next year, when many liberals hope to take control of some congressional seats that are held by Republicans right now.
Sanders, who endorsed a different candidate when Perez was vying to lead the Democratic National Committee, said Tuesday that the party needs to transform and become a party for all 50 states, not just the east and west coasts.
Tina Epperson, a 38-year-old from eastern Kentucky, came to Louisville Tuesday to see Sanders and said she hopes the Democratic Party will pay more attention to her part of the state from now on. "We have been forgotten," she said.
Perez appears to agree with that perspective on his party. "We need to be here in Louisville," he said Tuesday night before Sanders took the stage. "We need to be in every corner of this country."