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HUNTINGTON - Hours before early voting began in West Virginia, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders made his pitch to voters in the Mountain State Tuesday night.

Having lost four of five primaries to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Tuesday, Sanders never made direct mention of Clinton as he told the estimated 6,400 supporters in the Big Sandy Superstore Arena he was carrying on full steam ahead with their support.

"This campaign is going as well as it is, with the extraordinary energy and enthusiasm we are generating all across this country," Sanders said. "Look at this room here tonight, we have over 6,000 people. The reason we are generating this enthusiasm is because we are doing something very unusual in contemporary American politics. We are telling the truth."

Sanders hit on many of his campaign hallmarks during the lively rally, including the economy, making available tuition-free public higher education and the country's substance abuse issue.

Sanders' presence in Huntington was a celebration all its own Tuesday, with people showing their support by blowing bubbles, making papier-mache likenesses of the senator and standing in line for nearly 12 hours for a chance to see the candidate.

Two weeks until West Virginia's primary election on May 10, Sanders looked to capture the state's vote and its 29 delegates in his speech, during which he played to the state's economic and social woes, many of which he said were similar to the plights being suffered by citizens throughout the country.

Sanders pointed out West Virginia's workforce participation rate, which is the lowest in the country, noting that 53 percent of adults in the state who are eligible to work actually have jobs.

West Virginia lost more people during the period between July 2014 and July 2015 than any other state in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the state's legislators ended the 2016 regular legislative session in March without passing a budget that addresses a projected $270 million shortfall.

The cause of the shortfall and the population decline has been attributed to the decline in global energy markets, particularly affecting the state's coal industry and subsequently coal industry jobs and coal severance revenue for the state, leading to lower than projected revenue for the state.

Sanders said Tuesday that people who lose their jobs in the energy sector, specifically calling out the coal industry, should get the support they need to find new jobs.

"We have a moral obligation to protect those workers in the fossil fuel industry," Sanders said. "We cannot leave those people in the coal industry, in the gas industry, in the oil industry high and dry. We cannot do that. That is why we have the moral obligation to make certain that those people who may lose their jobs get new jobs and the education and benefits they deserve."

Sanders built on his point about education and played to the crowd in the college town, hitting home a key focal point of his campaign, by making public colleges and universities tuition free.

"Right now, in my state and right here in West Virginia, we've got a lot of kids who did and are growing up poor, whose parents never went to college, and these kids never in a million years can imagine they would go to college," Sanders said. "If we can make clear to the parents, teachers and children that any kid in this country who studies hard, who does his or her school work well, those kids will be able to get a higher education."

Sanders said eliminating tax breaks for Wall Street and instead increasing taxes for when Wall Street does well would help fund tuition free higher education.

Another issue Sanders addressed was the substance abuse problem in the United States.

Sanders didn't mention any statistics about West Virginia's or Huntington's substance abuse issues, but he did talk about how the issue affects the entire country.

In 2015, there were 944 overdoses in Cabell County, with 70 resulting in death. More than half of the overdoses occurred within Huntington city limits. The city averaged an overdose death once every six days and seven hours.

The senator said it was time the country adopted a different mindset when it came to dealing with substance abuse.

"I know it is a serious crisis here. Trust me, it is a serious crisis in my state as well," Sanders said. "The issue of how we deal with it, it seems to be to reach the conclusion that we have got to deal with substance abuse and addiction as a health issue, not a criminal issue. What it means is we have got to revolutionize mental health treatment in America. We have got to provide treatment to people when they need it and not six months from now."

Sanders' visit was the first visit by a presidential candidate to Huntington since George W. Bush campaigned in the Jewel City during his re-election bid in 2004.

In 2008, Chelsea Clinton made a push for her mom's first presidential campaign during a stop at Marshall University.

As of April 21, Sanders was behind Clinton in fundraising in West Virginia, according to data released by the Federal Election Commission.

At that time, Sanders had raised $158,340 compared to Clinton's $170,663.


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