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CEDAR FALLS — University of Northern Iowa students are getting ready for the 2020 caucus and on Monday had help from presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

About 500 people attended Sanders’ first 2020 rally at UNI. The event was part of Sanders’ College Campus Tailgate Tour.

During the rally inside UNI’s West Gym, Sanders focused on the progressive issues — health care for all, canceling student loan debt, fighting income inequality — that made him a household name in 2016 and encouraged students to “get involved with the political process.”

“The future of our country, and in some ways the future of our planet, depends on your generation becoming involved in the political process,” Sanders said. “Your generation turns out to be the most progressive younger generation in the history of this country.”

But, Sanders warned, “your generation votes in much lower numbers than older generations.”

The students at the rally seemed to take the idea to heart. Many said they plan to caucus for Sanders on Feb. 3.

Katie Melville, a UNI sophomore, and Brandy Avalos, a freshman, said they will caucus and vote in a presidential election for the first time in 2020.

“He had my support before the campaign, but it definitely grew,” Melville said after the rally.

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Both Melville and Avalos support Sanders right now, but Avalos won’t commit to caucusing for him yet. “I’m keeping my options open,” she said.

“Usually when you see public speakers talk politically around here, they’re usually conservative, so it’s nice to see someone I agree with,” Avalos said. “This event made me really like Bernie.”

Several others in the crowd caucused for Sanders in 2016, but haven’t yet decided who they’ll support this election.

Andrea Greve Coello is trying to see as many candidates as she can, noting the field of Democratic candidates is larger than it was in 2016.

“I’ll keep my options open. I caucused for Bernie last time, and I’m just undecided at this point,” Coello said.

Prior to Sanders taking the podium, students lined up outside the gym, where free pizza and ice water were served.

This will be UNI student Dylan Hauptmann’s first time voting in a presidential election. He intends to caucus for Sanders.

“My support for him is more concrete now (after) seeing him in person and realizing how real he is, and his concerns are for us. A lot of other politicians are more concerned for other rich people,” Hauptmann said.

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