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Bernie Sanders To Make First Pittsburgh Campaign Stop Thursday

It's a great day, better than a Steelers game.

That's the message Braddock Mayor and U.S. senatorial candidate John Fetterman shared with scores of fans and supporters flocking to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center early Thursday for Bernie Sanders' first Pittsburgh campaign stop.

Sanders is making Pittsburgh a priority, though the state's late primary, on April 26, usually means it's not a focus for candidates. 

Muhlenberg College political science professor Chris Borick said he isn't surprised.

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Credit Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA
"We can finally see daylight!" said Alexa Liming, 23, of Wellsburg, W.Va., after hours of waiting inside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center parking garage.

  He said, this year, it looks like the Democratic race will still be vibrant by the time the election comes to Pennsylvania. With only a few primaries coming up next week, Borick said it's a great time for Sanders to scope out places where he wants to be competitive.

“Throughout the commonwealth, (we have) some of the biggest student populations in the country. That might be a place where Bernie Sanders thinks he can do exceptionally well in getting out turnout, and he’s looking to start courting those voters," Borick said. "So, the trip to Pittsburgh makes sense."

Monday was the last day to register to vote or change parties before the Pennsylvania primary. State Officials said the switching accelerated in the weeks before Monday's deadline.

Among those making a switch, about half became Republicans, according to state statistics current as of Monday. One-third became Democrats and the rest — about one-eighth — joined a minor party or registered as unaffiliated.

More unaffiliated or third-party voters joined the Democratic Party this year — 52,200 became a Democrat while 42,600 switched to the GOP — and Democrats signed up more new voters this year, 70,000 to 55,500, according to state data. Democrats are heading into the primary with slightly more than 4 million voters; Republicans with nearly 3.1 million.

 

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Credit Virginia Alvino / 90.5 WESA
The crowd swells as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders prepares to speak at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown Pittsburgh.

And the numbers do not signal whether voters are switching to vote for or against a certain presidential candidate in an election year that has brought out strong reactions for and against Republican front-runner Donald Trump and a surge in support for Sanders over party favorite Hillary Clinton.

Historically, Clinton has done well in Pennsylvania. She beat then-candidate Barack Obama in the 2008 state primary by strong margins. 

A recent poll by Franklin and Marshall College shows Hillary Clinton is again taking a sizeable lead in Pennsylvania -- 53 percent to Sanders' 28 percent. Both candidates opened their first Pittsburgh campaign offices last week. 

Later in the day, Sanders will head to New York for a rally in South Bronx.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.