U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders brought his well-known, energetic rhetoric to Bozeman as he rallied support for Democrat Rob Quist at a campaign event at Montana State University on Sunday.

“We are at a pivotal moment in American history,” Sanders said. “Now is not the time to be demoralized, now is not the time for despair, now is the time to fight back.”

Bozeman was the final stop on a weekend tour for Sanders and Quist, following appearances in Butte, Billings and Missoula on Saturday.

Sanders was in the state as the May 25 special election to fill Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s vacated seat has recently garnered the attention of both the national Democratic and Republican parties.

Quist, a career Montana musician, is running against Republican tech entrepreneur Greg Gianforte and Libertarian rancher Mark Wicks for the state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Roughly 4,500 people packed into MSU’s Strand Union Building, according to a spokeswoman for the Quist campaign. An extra auditorium was set up to accommodate the overflow, as well as an outdoor staging area with speakers. The Chronicle was unable to immediately verify the estimated crowd size with MSU Sunday afternoon.

Sanders, a popular independent from Vermont who lost to Hillary Clinton in last year’s Democratic primary, touched on many of his longtime platforms, from women’s rights to economic inequality to climate change.

“Rob has a crazy idea. He thinks maybe, just maybe, we should have a Congress that works for the working class and not the millionaires,” Sanders said. “Rob is going to Congress to change the priorities that currently exist.”

Sanders said that if Quist is elected, he would help the long-serving senator tackle an agenda that includes overturning Citizens United, instituting a $15 minimum wage and making public colleges and universities tuition-free.

“This is not a focus group guy, this is a man of the people,” Sanders said. “What he has done in the last couple months has been extraordinary.”

The Quist campaign has received 200,000 individual contributions averaging $25 since its launch, according to Sanders.

“This election is of extraordinary importance,” he said. “The eyes of the country are on Montana.”

In his speech, Quist sought to differentiate himself from Gianforte on several issues, namely his belief that public lands should remain free from private interests. Quist also emphasized his vision for affordable health care and decried the Republican-backed health care bill that passed the House earlier this month, calling it “a tax break for the very rich.”

“We are in a fight for the soul of Montana,” he said. “Stand up and defend her like a lady that we honor and respect.”

Introducing Quist, Katie Mazurek described her experience with stage 3 breast cancer.

“That (health) care protected me and saved my life. Now I have to worry about someone taking that care away,” Mazurek said. “We need you to act as this great state’s conscious and cast your ballot for the person who is going to the right thing for Montana and that’s Rob Quist.”

Marsha Small, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, which recently endorsed Quist, added that the Cut Bank native is the candidate who would best champion Native American interests.

“Native America depends on Rob Quist to bring us all forward,” Small said.

Outside the SUB, many in the crowd lined up hours before the doors opened for a chance to show their support for Quist and see Sanders in person.

At the front of the line, Gary McGowan said that the candidates’ views on health care were the most important factor in his decision to vote for Quist.

“I’m a one topic guy, and that’s the topic,” the 39-year-old Bozeman resident said. “In my opinion, it’s the biggest thing that affects most families.”

“I believe in energy and Bernie Sanders is the icing on the cake in terms of pushing that energy,” he added.

Several members of recently formed local political group Gallatin Angelic Troublemakers said that of all the candidates, Quist’s views on most issues aligned the closest with their own.

“He’s not afraid to stand for progressive causes,” said Christina Hayes, 41. “And he’s walked the walk. He understands the pain of getting a big medical bill in the mail.”

Quist’s man-of-the-people appeal is important to those who are tired of the excessive money and special interests involved in politics, added Roger Fischer, 38.

“Hopefully this election will show you don’t need to be a millionaire to be in the U.S. House,” Fischer said.

Kendall can be reached at lkendall@dailychronicle.com. Kendall is on Twitter at @lewdak

Lewis Kendall covers business and the economy for the Chronicle.

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