MANATEE -- If Sen. Bernie Sanders wants to win Florida's Democratic presidential primary on March 15, he's going to have an uphill battle.
Republicans have tended to dominate primary discussions in 2016, but Hillary Clinton and Sanders are still competing for the Democratic nomination. Clinton has pulled way ahead of Sanders, both in primary wins and in Florida polls, beating Sanders by 30 points, 54 to 24, in the most recent poll.
"Both campaigns are fired up," said Sheryl Wilson, chair of the Manatee County Democrats. "But polls are indicating Hillary has a strong lead."
Manatee and Sarasota residents are unlikely to see Clinton or Sanders in the area before March 15. Pat Benson, Manatee County chair for the Clinton campaign, said Clinton will likely spend most of her time in Florida in the Miami area, and possibly in Tampa or Orlando.
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Jaime Canfield, Manatee chairman for the Sanders campaigns, did not return requests for comment Friday. But in a letter to the editor published Thursday, he said Sanders represents the "emerging political revolution."
"Hillary Clinton will continue the established 'way of doing business.' She is comfortable there and knows how to play that game," Canfield wrote. "But she will not fight for real change and will not tackle the major issues that Bernie is committed to confronting."
Local registered nurses are hosting a rally for Sanders at 3 p.m. Saturday at Payne Park in Sarasota, before they take advantage of early voting, which starts Saturday.
"As nurses, we know that so many of our patients are struggling to access the healthcare they need and deserve," said Sarasota nurse Dawn Edwards. "It's not uncommon to see patients who have to choose between paying for expensive medications or covering other bills, especially when they are on Social Security or otherwise have limited budgets. Bernie is calling for Medicare for all, not as a privilege but as a right of all people, and nurses really resonate with that."
Benson said a lot of their campaigning has involving phone calls in the area, and that most people she's spoken with are voting for Clinton or already have voted for her.
"I think I've only spoken to three or four Sanders supporters, and I've called thousands," Benson said.
Florida has 246 Democratic delegates that are winner take all. As of Friday, Democrats in Manatee County have returned 7,803 mail-in ballots out of 15,146 requested. Republicans have returned 12,180 out of 26,243 ballots.
Wilson said a lot of people on the Clinton campaign are veteran political activists, while the Sanders campaign has drawn more unfamiliar faces. Regardless of who wins Florida, she said she's glad to stay out of the "circus" of the Republican race.
"Let's just say we've been proud to be Democrats through this process," she said.
Benson said she has "no idea" what a Clinton vs. Donald Trump general election would look like, but she hopes it would drive Democrats to the polls to vote instead of sitting at home and complaining about politicians without acting.
"People want to see a change, but he's not the way to do it," Benson said. "He has no idea what a Constitution is."
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter@KateIrby