SALT LAKE CITY — Before Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders took the stage at West High School in front of thousands of people, he gave a speech to a significantly smaller audience in a plain white room behind the gym.
There, to a select group of about 100 supporters and members of the media, Sanders gave a rare speech focused exclusively on foreign policy — an area where he has been criticized for being weak.
In his half-hour address, Sanders outlined an approach to foreign policy that puts diplomacy ahead of military intervention.
He also described an even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Peace has to mean security for every Israeli from violence and terrorism, but peace also means security for every Palestinian," Sanders said. "It means achieving self-determination, civil rights and economic well-being for the Palestinian people."
The senator said his speech is what he would have said at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, which also took place Monday in Washington, D.C.
Sanders is the only presidential candidate who declined an invitation to speak to the influential pro-Israel lobbying group.
Republican contender Donald Trump cited his AIPAC speech as one of the reasons he couldn't make it to the GOP debate in Salt Lake originally scheduled for Monday. Fox News canceled the debate shortly after Republican candidate John Kasich also bowed out.
Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, called Sanders’ choice of venue “curious.”
Karpowitz said the senator might be test-driving his foreign policy ideas in a lower-stakes environment before taking it to a broader audience.
“Overall, this is really late in the campaign for him to be talking about foreign policy in a more sustained way,” he said.
According to Karpowitz, foreign policy has been seen as a weakness for Sanders, particularly in comparison with his Democratic rival and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In Washington, Sanders' competitors gave ringing speeches pledging their support for Israel.
Sanders, in his speech, also touched on the Iran nuclear deal and the need for a coalition of countries to fight the Islamic State, or ISIS.
"While the U.S. has an important role — a very important role — to play in defeating ISIS, that struggle must be led by the Muslim countries themselves on the ground," he said.
Later at the rally, Sanders repeated his stump speech to an electrified crowd of thousands, their cheers often threatening to drown out the senator's voice before he could finish his sentences.
The crowd roared as the senator hit topics like universal health care, police violence, the legalization of marijuana and comprehensive immigration reform.
"Change comes about when people look around them and they say the status quo is just not acceptable," Sanders said. "Racism is not acceptable. Sexism, homophobia, exploitation," he said, before being interrupted by huge cheers.
"Exploitation of workers," he continued.
This is the senator's second time in Salt Lake in four days. On Friday, Sanders held a rally at This Is the Place Heritage Park, which also drew thousands of people.
Utah's presidential preference caucus meetings take place Tuesday. Both parties are expecting a large turnout.
"The people of Utah can send a profound message," Sanders said at the rally. "And that is that Utah is prepared to fight for a political revolution."
Dulce Mandujano, 18, will be the first person in her family to vote in a U.S. election.
She says Sanders is the only candidate with policies that would help her mom and dad, immigrants who worked multiple jobs to raise her and her younger sisters.
"My dad's proud of me," said Mandujano, a Salt Lake Community College student studying computer engineering. "I'm going to school. I'm going to vote. I told them, 'I want to help you guys all the way.'"
Salt Lake resident Bobby Rys said he admires Sanders' longstanding stances on civil rights issues such as racism and same-sex marriage, and he doesn't mind paying more in taxes for social programs "if it's working properly."
Rys is working on his "dream" — opening a coffee shop and bar that also serves as a musical venue.
"I'm doing it without a college education," said Rys, who dropped out of college after a semester because it was too costly. "I couldn't work hard at both things at the same time."14 comments on this story
In his rally speech, Sanders referenced several Deseret News/KSL polls showing Sanders holding an edge over Clinton in Utah by 8 percentage points among likely Democratic caucusgoers, 52 percent to 44 percent.
"If Utah comes out and votes for political revolution, and Idaho does it, Washington will not be far behind, and then comes Oregon, then comes California," Sanders said, to the loudest cheers of the night.
Sanders polled better against all three Republican rivals than Clinton, according to the Deseret News/KSL poll.