The front row of a nearly full house cheers on presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders in Portland Monday night as he delivers a speech. Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

More than 8,000 people — many more than originally anticipated — flooded Portland’s rally-style event with presidential candidate Bernie Sanders Monday night. They carried “Bernie” signs and cheered when he talked about the need for a higher minimum wage, free public college education, universal health care and an end to criminalizing drug use.

But does he have a chance?

Why do Mainers think Sanders, an independent U.S. senator from Vermont and self-described socialist, has a shot at victory?

Here are their thoughts:

1. He has a populist message.

“He’s a candidate that’s putting the middle class ahead of corporate or financial interests,” Jonas Allen, a Yarmouth resident told the Portland Press Herald. “I think that’s why he is taking off. Because he is the only candidate on the Republican or Democratic side who is really taking a stand on the issue. When you have a political machine behind you like the Clintons do, it is going to be a challenge. But I think his populist message is getting out there whether he gets the nomination or not.”

Steve Ranco, a Westbrook resident, agreed.

“I think he’s the only candidate out there that is talking about the issues like college cost, global warming and global trade. [He’s] laying it right there on the line. I think Mainers like a genuine sound, and that’s what they’re hearing in Bernie right now.”

2. ‘You can trust him.’

“It’s the first time I’ve ever actually believed what a candidate was saying,” Michael Lecomte, 30, a resident of Portland’s West-End told the Bangor Daily News. “He is a lot about equality, and the promotion of the working class and middle class.”

“You can trust him,” Faith Norton, 20, a student at the University of Maine at Farmington, said. “The pattern of politics, he totally breaks free from it.”

3. He ‘has his ideas already.’

When asked how Sanders’ trustworthiness compared with Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton’s, some Mainers had a decisive response.

“If she ends up being the party’s nominee, she’s going to change her views,” Nick Bray, 20, also a student at the University of Maine at Farmington, said. “Bernie has his ideas already, and I’d rather put my support behind a candidate who’s going to stick with his position and not change, like I think Hillary will do. 

4. He’s different.

“He challenges the conventional political spectrum,” Ciaran Coyle, 21, a student at the University of Maine, said. “And he’s still loved by the people.”

5. Younger people like his education policy.

“Free tuition is pretty huge,” said Willy Buchstaber, 19, of Stetson. “Personally, I dropped out of school after a month or two. … If he makes tuition free, I’m going back to school and growing my life potential.”

6. He understands people’s fears.

“[We need to] encourage young people to stay here [in Maine],” Goldie Irvine, 23, or Portland said. “We have an older population. Our economy is dying. With Bernie Sanders and his policies, by promoting education and more jobs, it would promote more young Mainers to stay in Maine.”