KENT, Ohio (AP) — In a pair of university stops in battleground Ohio on Saturday, Bernie Sanders used his enduring popularity with young voters to urge support for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. It's just that his crowds aren't what they used to be.
The Vermont senator praised his former Democratic rival's agenda as the right choice for millennial and union voters and said those who are turned off by their choices in the election should still turn out, even if they think "everybody's horrible."
Sanders told gatherings at the University of Akron and Kent State that Republican Donald Trump's statements against Muslims, women, Mexicans and other groups threaten to unravel decades of work to improve equality.
"We can't in 2016 accept bigotry as the cornerstone of any campaign," he said.
Sanders also promoted Clinton's positions on climate change, a minimum wage increase and tuition-free public college.
"When you talk to your friends and they say, 'I'm not going to vote, everybody's horrible,' ask them how much they're going to leave school in debt," Sanders said. "Ask them about that."
About 200 attended his Akron rally; about 600 showed up at Kent State. It was a far cry from the throngs overflowing his events during his heated contest with Clinton in the primary season. Even so, Sanders struck home with some as he asked people to swing behind Clinton.
"Before today, I was not persuaded one bit, but I think Bernie made a pretty convincing case," said Dallas Tucholski, a 20-year-old University of Akron senior wearing a T-shirt plastered with Sanders faces. "I trust Bernie; I think he's the one good, honest politician that's left out there. For him to stay out on the trail — he doesn't need to do this — you can tell he cares about us and cares about the future. So I'm going to take his advice and vote for Hillary Clinton."
But many rally attendees remained undecided.
Sam Woofter, 18, a computer engineering major at Akron, said he's having a difficult time picking an alternative to Sanders.
"I voted for him in the primaries, and yelled at my friends for not voting for him in the primaries," he said. All he can tell his friends now, is that, "You should have voted in the primaries."
Shaheeda Haque, 17, said many friends at Akron plan to stay home. They dislike Trump and believe Hillary's "terrible, or a snake or whatever."
"I definitely think that Hillary needs Bernie to get up there and endorse her, because he just has so much millennial support behind him," she said. "So I think it's pretty important for us to feel secure, for us to hear from this man that we trust that we can trust Hillary Clinton."
Her friend, Lily Crissey, 18, a political science major, said she's leaning toward Clinton because a vote for a third party is impractical and "like giving your vote to Trump."
Jacob Berlin, 20, who drove to the Sanders rally in Kent from Pittsburgh, said he wants to follow Sanders' advice and vote for Clinton — but right now he can't.
"I trust his judgment and I value his opinion, but when it's just me and the ballot box, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to push her button," he said. For now he's supporting Libertarian Gary Johnson. "I think among my peers we're all in the same boat that it would be better to get him up in the polls than have to vote for the lesser of two evils," he said.
But Toni Brooks, 27, a sales professional in Fairlawn, said she believes seeing Sanders and Clinton team up will make a difference with young voters disenchanted by the tone of the 2016 campaign.
"When you see the buffoonery we see on television every day, it does want to make you lose faith," she said. "But a united front is really helpful."