Capitol Alert

Hillary Clinton seeks party unity amid ‘a lot of anger out there’

Tale of two California Democratic delegates: Sanders or Clinton?

Two of California's delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia talk Sunday July 24, 2016 about why they are supporting their presidential candidates.
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Two of California's delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia talk Sunday July 24, 2016 about why they are supporting their presidential candidates.

As California Democrats arrived in Philadelphia over the weekend, sipping bourbon lemonade in the lobby of a Marriott downtown, Karen Bernal, an organizer of Bernie Sanders’ delegates from California, headed to a hotel five minutes away.

If the state party’s encampment offered a venue for unification, Bernal was resisting.

“It’s easier (for Hillary Clinton) to sheep herd,” she said, “when everyone’s in the same pasture.”

More than a month after the last primary, Sanders has endorsed Clinton, who this week will claim her party’s nomination for president despite a series of planned protests against her, including a bean dinner and “fart-in” during her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Intraparty tension surrounding Clinton’s nomination runs high in California, on a coast that Sanders once looked to hopefully as “the most progressive part of America.”

Pro-Clinton forces who put the state in her column eight years ago still smart from Barack Obama’s nomination, while many of Sanders’ supporters are losing a primary for the first time.

“There is a lot of anger out there,” said Bernal, of Sacramento.

For Clinton, the convention opening Monday offers a platform to introduce her general election campaign after a surprisingly competitive primary and a week of media dominated by Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s nominating convention.

I’m not sure everyone is ready to jump on board.

Karen Bernal, delegate for Bernie Sanders from Sacramento

But with Sanders supporters wending their way to Philadelphia on GoFundMe accounts and in caravans from across the country, Clinton loyalists acknowledged how much Democrats have to do to unify their ranks.

“It’s going to be hard,” said Maria Patterson, vice chair of the San Joaquin County Democratic Party. “I think it’s going to take a conversation, educating them on the issues, and it will take embracing them to come along.”

Patterson, a Clinton delegate, said she expects Sanders supporters will gradually move to Clinton after the Vermont senator addresses the convention on Monday night. If they do not, she fears Trump could prevail, saying, “We’re going to have someone leading America who is going to destroy America.

“I’m very worried.”

Clinton carried California by a wide margin in June, after the former secretary of state secured the nomination with victories in earlier-voting states. Yet Sanders campaigned furiously in the state for weeks, forcing Clinton to compete and damaging her image rating in the state.

Following her primary victory, Clinton enjoyed a boost, with her image rating in California ticking up 6 percentage points.

The nation’s largest delegation to the convention includes 254 Clinton delegates, 221 Sanders delegates and 76 delegates who are unpledged.

“Voters are actually starting to feel a little better about Clinton,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll.

Yet Clinton and the Democratic National Committee have given Sanders supporters new reasons for unrest in recent days. Emails made public by WikiLeaks on Friday showed DNC officials mocking and working to undermine Sanders, supporting his argument that the committee had treated him unfairly during the primary campaign. On Sunday, DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said she would resign after the convention.

I think it’s going to take a conversation, educating them on the issues, and it will take embracing them to come along.

Maria Patterson, vice chair of the San Joaquin County Democratic Party

Clinton’s selection of Tim Kaine for vice president further infuriated Sanders faithful, who view the Virginia senator as unacceptable because of his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and moderate approach to the banking industry.

“That’s absolutely appalling,” said Robert Shearer, a Sanders delegate from McKinleyville who is rallying Sanders supporters to contest Clinton’s nomination. “This was a slap in the face to progressives, and it is clearly catering to the right.”

Asked if she could shift her support to Clinton, Zenaida Huerta, a 17-year-old delegate from Whittier, refused to consider the prospect.

“Right now, our job as delegates is to make sure that Bernie is the nominee, and to get the most progressive platform,” said Huerta, who will be 18 by Election Day and eligible to vote. “I’m supporting Bernie Sanders. I’m doing everything I can.”

Samuel Popkin, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, and author of the book “The Candidate: What it Takes to Win – and Hold – the White House,” said Clinton risks further alienating Sanders supporters if she fails to make concessions to them. In a committee meeting Saturday, Sanders achieved a victory when his supporters reached an accord with Clinton backers that could blunt the significance of superdelegates in future presidential elections, a longstanding goal of Sanders.

California’s electoral history suggests that liberal constituencies can come to embrace more moderate candidates over time – even when they disagree with them on significant issues.

In 1990, when Dianne Feinstein defeated John Van de Kamp in California’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, she deliberately provoked boos from Democratic activists at a state party convention by stating her support for capital punishment, gaining respect and backing from more moderate voters. It wasn’t enough for her to win the general election – Feinstein lost to Republican Pete Wilson – but she has gone on to a long career in the U.S. Senate.

Her job is not to look as though she is compromising her beliefs to satisfy any particular group of Democratic supporters. Her job is to look like a strong, resolute leader, which is what America is looking for.

Darry Sragow, longtime Democratic strategist

“She was roundly booed by just about everybody in the hall – an incredibly negative reaction to that comment,” said Darry Sragow, who managed Feinstein’s campaign. “But it helped define her as someone who was strong and tough, and has the courage of her convictions and was somebody who is willing to say what she thinks regardless of the consequences. And to this day that is how she is defined by the voters.”

He said Clinton’s goal “is not to look as though she is compromising her beliefs to satisfy any particular group of Democratic supporters. Her job is to look like a strong, resolute leader, which is what America is looking for.”

Appearing with Kaine in Miami on Saturday, Clinton said that in Philadelphia this week she will present a “very different vision for our country” than Trump expressed last week, “one that is about building bridges, not walls, embracing the diversity that makes our country great, lifting each other up, standing together, because we know there’s nothing we can’t accomplish once we make up our minds.”

Sanders supporters have yet to be convinced.

Bernal said she and other liberal Democrats have “gone through the initial steps of disappointment, grief” about Sanders’ candidacy and believe that “Trump would be disastrous.”

But she said many Sanders delegates are likely to vote for Clinton in November if they live in a competitive state. In a heavily Democratic state such as California, on the other hand, Sanders delegates could throw their support to a third-party candidate with little fear of affecting the election’s outcome.

For Clinton, Bernal said, “I’m not sure everyone is ready to jump on board.”

Thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters took to the streets Sunday to offer support and encouragement for the candidate. Dave Helling was there.

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David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders

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