Will Bernie Sanders' Voters Warm Up To Hillary Clinton?

Jun 12, 2016

There can be no denying the historic nature of the moment in late July when Hillary Clinton steps to the podium at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia to become the first woman nominated by a major party as its presidential candidate.

"I'm grateful that it is happening in my lifetime,'' said Kathy Helmbock, a Clinton supporter and a long-time activist in feminist organizations such as the National Organization for Women and the Cincinnati Women's Political Caucus.

It comes 96 years after women were first given the right to vote by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution; and 168 years after the first women's rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, N.Y.

"It's amazing, because it took women 72 years and two generations to fight for and win the right to vote,'' Helmbock said. "But when I was young, back in the 1940s and 1950s, when I was reading history books, the women's suffrage movement was reduced to a paragraph in the history books."

The nomination of Clinton "was a great victory,'' Helmbock said. "But the major glass ceiling to break through is winning  the presidency itself."

But to do that, Clinton is likely going to need the active support of a rival who gave her all she could handle in the long marathon of primaries and caucuses that led to securing the nomination.

That would be Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the democratic socialist candidate, who is still campaigning and drawing huge crowds; and will continue to do so, right up to Tuesday's District of Columbia primary, the final primary of the season.

There is no question about the fact that the Democratic Party establishment has been astounded by the staying power of Sanders and the millions of followers he has brought into the political process.

They are people of all ages, but the 74-year-old senator's support has been particularly strong among young adults, from college age to the millennials. Many of these people have never been involved in politics before; some have never voted; and there is great fear and dread among Clinton supporters and the Democratic Party establishment about whether or not they will come out in November to vote for Clinton.

What they are waiting for, most likely, is the word from Sanders that it is alright; that they should go out and vote for the Democratic nominee because the specter of Donald Trump becoming president is much, much worse – no matter how they feel about Hillary Clinton.

But that word has yet to come.

Donald Mooney is a long-time Democratic Party activist in Hamilton County who wasn't really satisfied with either Sanders or Clinton. That's why, on his Facebook page, he has a profile picture that says "Biden/Warren." A team of Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren would be much more to his liking.

"I'm living in the fantasy world of Biden and Elizabeth,'' Mooney said.

The first presidential nomination of a woman is impressive, Mooney said.

But, he said, "it would be much more memorable if it was someone not related to another president. That's been done before. Argentina has done it a couple of times."

Mooney worries about the current split between Sanders and Clinton wings of the party and the damage it could do in the fall. In 1980, Mooney was a delegate for Ted Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention in New York. Kennedy came up short of taking the nomination away from incumbent Jimmy Carter, but the animosity between the two camps lasted long after the convention was over.

And Carter lost that fall's election to Ronald Reagan.

History could be repeating itself here, Mooney said.

"Bernie hasn’t said anything because he doesn't have to, at least not now,'' Mooney said. "Bernie is not a normal politician. He believes he is building a movement. He's not much interested in surrendering so he can fight another day. The normal rules for politicians don't necessarily apply to him."

Mike  Moroski, one of the few Sanders supporters on the Hamilton County Democratic Party's executive committee, said he is "prepared to vote for Hillary. The prospect of Trump as president is absolutely terrifying."

"Since I've become involved in the Sanders campaign, I've met legions of people – young, old, from all backgrounds,'' Moroski said. "They're not just pot-smoking hippies.

"What a lot of them have in common is that they are new to the political process,'' Moroski said. "The biggest failure of the Democratic Party and of Bernie would be to not to try to capitalize on the new energy these people bring."

Moroski said he knows that only Sanders and Sanders alone can energize his supporters to come out in November and vote for Clinton. Clinton, he said, can't do it on her own.

"I certainly don't have any irrational hatred or beef with Hillary Clinton,'' Moroski said. "She just doesn't excite me.

"But I have to vote for her,'' Moroski said. "I may not make calls or knock on doors like I would for Bernie, but I can't sit by and do nothing."

Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, said he is convinced that, before long, Sanders will be delivering a message to his supporters that they must support Clinton.

"The division on the issues between Sanders and Clinton is much less than the division between Sanders and Trump,'' Burke said.

Sanders has five seats on the party's platform committee, which Burke said will give Sanders an opportunity to bring reforms to the way the Democratic Party selects its presidential nominees.

What Sanders objects to the most are the "super-delegates," unpledged party leaders who are not bound by primary results and can support whichever candidate they want. This year, the vast majority of the 714 super-delegates have said they are backing Clinton.

"The super-delegates are simply there to make sure leaders of the party have a role to play in the party,'' Burke said.

In the end, Burke said, he expects to see Sanders standing on stage in Philadelphia, "holding up her arm in a gesture of solidarity."

President Obama, too, could have a large role to play in bringing Sanders supporters around to support Clinton, Burke said. Thursday, Obama endorsed Clinton; and plans to campaign with her Wednesday in Wisconsin. 

Obama met with Sanders Thursday, as well, and Sanders made a statement to the media outside the White House in which he said he would campaign in Tuesday's D.C. primary; and is waiting to see the final vote count of last week's California primary, which he said he believes will be much closer than the election night tally. 

As for Clinton, Sanders said he spoke to her briefly on the phone last Tuesday night and and offered congratulations on her showing. 

"I look forward to meeting with her in the near future to see how we can work together to defeat Donald Trump and create a government that represents all of us and not just the one percent," Sanders said, walking away without taking reporters' questions.  

Conciliatory, but not a formal endorsement. 

But, as Moroski said, "it's all up to Bernie" as to what message he sends to his supporters and when he sends it."

"As much as I love Bernie,  at some point, he has to be the one who says to his supporters, 'You must support her with your vote,''' Moroski said. "No one else can deliver that message. Just Bernie."