By CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) – Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders made his first campaign stop of the election Monday in Denver’s Civic Center Park. The Vermont Senator held a rally that drew a large crowd. Sanders built up a following of die-hard supporters when he ran for president in 2016, but he returns to a different political landscape.

Sen. Bernie Sanders Makes First Campaign Stop In Colorado For 2020 Race

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at a rally at Civic Center Park on Sept. 9, 2019. (credit: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

He was the anti-establishment insurgent then. Today, he’s a leading contender and he has competition for the left wing of the party from candidates like Elizabeth Warren. He got right to the point at the rally, “I’m here to ask your help to win the Colorado primary… and with the turnout I see here I think we’re going to do just that.”

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In 2016, Sanders won Colorado’s caucuses against Hillary Clinton. But caucus-goers are the progressive purists. Primary voters are the broad array of the electorate, and unaffiliated voters are the largest block of voters today. Sanders, who is the only self-declared democratic socialist in the race, avoided that subject and instead delivered a populist message that he hopes resonates with moderate voters, “In this unprecedented moment in history, let us stand up together.” He railed against income inequality, the high cost of health care and fracking, “Today we say to the fossil fuel industry (crowd starts booing) that’s one way of saying it.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders in Colorado

Supporter Nneka Uwudia (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

He also praised Coloradans for being trailblazers, “Thank you Colorado for leading the way to the legalization of marijuana… Our job is to think big not small… It goes without saying that we must, and we will, defeat Trump.”

Sanders’ visit comes just a few weeks after former Gov. John Hickenlooper — who criticized the socialist policies Sanders is known for — dropped out of the presidential race and entered Colorado’s U.S. Senate race. While other national Democrats have endorsed Hickenlooper, Sanders told Colorado Public Radio he will not be endorsing anyone in the primary race.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders Makes First Campaign Stop In Colorado For 2020 Race

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters on Sept. 9, 2019. (credit: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

Sanders made several stops in Colorado during his losing bid for the Democratic nomination in 2016, and Colorado delegates favored Sanders over his competitor Hillary Clinton.

In 2018, Sanders returned to the Cenennial state to throw his support behind would-be Gov. Jared Polis and other progressive Democratic candidates.

In April, Polis announced Colorado will join others in holding a presidential primary on Super Tuesday — March 3, 2020. He said it was in hopes of luring more presidential contenders to the state. (Unaffiliated voters will be able to vote in the presidential primary, but only by picking one party.)

Sanders is one of several candidates making early stops in Colorado. Kamala Harris campaigned in Denver in early August and former Vice President Joe Biden announced plans to make a campaign stop in Colorado soon. His campaign travel schedule includes a stop in Denver on Sept. 28.

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Shaun Boyd