May 26, 2016 6:30 AM EDT

With its 546 delegates, California has often played a crucial role in the Democratic presidential primary. But this year, the stakes are higher than usual – especially for Bernie Sanders. If the Vermont senator pulls an upset win, he will ride into the Democratic convention with the legitimacy to truly influence the party’s platform. That’s why the candidate has been crisscrossing the state, holding rallies from San Diego to Vallejo, in front of hundreds of thousands of supporters.

“When people in Vallejo heard Bernie Sanders was coming to speak, everyone got excited,” says Carolyn Drake, a Magnum photographer who attended four of the candidate’s meetings for TIME. “I got texts from relatives in other parts of the Bay asking if I’d heard the news and local friends started texting each other, making plans to attend.”

Read next: Bernie’s Evolution

Drake’s photographs show the large crowds of young, predominantly white supporters as they wait for and cheer Sanders under the Californian sun. Most of them wear t-shirts, badges or pins highlighting Sanders’ key messages.

“There are a lot of staunch Bernie Sanders supporters in California, including my assistant, who screamed with the rest of the crowd as Mr. Sanders came to the podium,” she says. “At the rallies there were lots of people wearing their views on their buttons and shirts and faces, but the crowd was more mellow than fans at a football game, and more kind.”

Read next: Meet Bernie Sanders’ Official Campaign Photographer

For Drake, there’s little doubt that Sanders’ supporters are “idealists, people who believe the political scene in this country needs reform.”

Yet, as she travels the country for her work, she’s still taken aback by the divisiveness she’s seen—and the variety of views that Sanders’ supporters will have to contend with. “Having spent time recently in the Deep South and in rural parts of Oregon and Idaho, as well more liberal places on the east and west coasts,” she says, “it’s incredible how strongly the viewpoints clash.”

Carolyn Drake is a photographer based in California. She is represented by Magnum Photos.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

More Must-Read Stories From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com.

You May Also Like
EDIT POST