Shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday night, early returns from California popped up on CNN showing Hillary Clinton with a commanding lead over Bernie Sanders in the state’s Democratic presidential primary.
Inside the Barker Hangar at Santa Monica Airport, the crowd of Sanders supporters awaiting their candidate’s arrival was having none of it. “Turn it off! Turn it off!” they chanted.
Before long, the enormous screen hanging at one end of the room had switched from the live television feed to a photo slideshow of previous Sanders rallies.
On an evening that saw Clinton clinch the Democratic nomination with wins in New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota, it would be just about the only mention of election results.
“Why is anybody even talking about that?” wondered Marr Nealon, a voiceover artist from Los Angeles, who criticized CNN and other networks for touting Clinton’s early edge in California when millions of votes were still outstanding.
“That infuriates me and makes me sad,” she said. “I wanted this to be a big victory night.”
It may as well have been, even if the numbers, the political analysts and Clinton herself said otherwise. Devoted Sanders acolytes gathered at Barker Hangar with an electric excitement and a steadfast conviction that their candidate could take the primary fight all the way to the Democratic National Convention in July.
Intermittent cheers of “Sí se puede” broke out across the crowd, which joined in unison as the “We will be victorious” refrain of Muse’s “Uprising” blared over the loudspeakers.
Melina Bambanian of Long Beach was volunteering at her seventh Sanders rally, passing out signs and welcoming attendees with loud screams of “Woooo!” She estimated that she had given out at least 400 high-fives.
“I’m happy to see all these people,” she said. “See my hand? It’s still black-and-blue.”
Sanders’ arrival at around 10:40 p.m. commanded an ovation of more than a minute. When he promised, late in his remarks, “Our fight for social, economic, racial and environmental justice is not over,” a wave of joy and relief that he would not be conceding washed over the crowd.
While elsewhere, celebrations and discussion focused on Clinton’s achievement of becoming the first woman standard-bearer for a major party in a presidential race, on Sanders’ turf, she was regarded with venom.
The largest boo of the night – much bigger than one for Republican nominee Donald Trump – came when Sanders mentioned that he had called Clinton earlier to congratulate her on her victories.
One disgruntled supporter was overheard remarking, “If it was between Adolf Hitler and Hillary Clinton, I wouldn’t vote for her.”
Her historic accomplishment held little meaning for so many who held her in so little regard.
“As a feminist, that doesn’t represent feminism to me,” said Vanessa Decker, 34, who owns a luxury property management business in Santa Barbara. “There’s a larger symbolism at stake. It goes beyond race and gender.”
“I don’t care that she’s a woman. Not one damn bit,” added Nealon. “I am not a vagina voter.”
Even politicians were hedging their bets. Former state legislator and Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo, who campaigned with Sanders, made the rounds at the rally.
“For Democrats to go forward, for us to be successful, these two campaigns have to come together” to defeat Trump, he said, though he declined to commit to backing Clinton before the California results came in.
Leaving the rally at midnight, a lone attendee admitted that he would support Clinton in the fall.
Richard Greene’s revelation that “100 percent, I will vote for Hillary” led to a tense exchange with his companion, Olga Diaz.
“Try not to punch me,” joked Greene, a 62-year-old political communications strategist from Brentwood.
“I’m not violent,” Diaz, 53, of Los Angeles, shot back.
Greene said he was still “disgusted” with how Ralph Nader’s third-party candidacy helped hand the 2000 election to George W. Bush. He hoped to avoid a repeat with Trump.
Shaking her head and repeatedly interjecting, Diaz asserted that “Hillary Clinton is more dangerous than Trump.” Like many others Tuesday night, she said she could never vote for Clinton.
“My integrity would be lost,” she told Greene. Then she offered, perhaps, the ultimate Bernie burn: “Deep down inside, I think you’re a Hillary supporter.”