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After Bern: In wake of near-certain Clinton victory, Minnesota Democrats sound conciliatory

Minnesota’s members of Congress stopped short of calling for Sanders to drop out of the race, but they appeared to be looking toward the party’s next moves.

Rep. Keith Ellison has been one of Sanders’ most vocal backers in Congress. He hasn’t called for the Vermont Senator to drop out of the presidential race, but he did praise party’s “two progressive candidates.”
REUTERS/Eric Miller

It was already a done deal, but Tuesday’s primaries sealed it further: Hillary Clinton now has enough pledged delegates and committed superdelegates to secure the Democratic nomination at the party convention in July.

The campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders went all-in on winning the California primary, but in the end, it wasn’t even close: Clinton beat the Vermont senator by 13 points in the Golden State. She bested him by nearly 30 points in New Jersey’s primary, also held Tuesday.

In a defiant speech late Tuesday night, though, Sanders vowed to continue through the District of Columbia’s primary on June 14, and to fight up until the Democratic National Convention in July, telling supporters that “the struggle continues.”

But should it? After Tuesday’s results,  some Minnesota Democratic members of Congress — Sanders and Clinton backers alike — emphasized one thing: defeating Donald Trump is now their most important task, and it’ll require total unity from the Democratic Party.

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Nobody called on Sanders to drop out, but they all seemed to anticipate his formal exit from the campaign in the near future, and are thinking about where to go from there.

Sanders faithful weigh in

In the Minnesota delegation, 5th District Rep. Keith Ellison and 8th District Rep. Rick Nolan are the only members to have endorsed Sanders. Seventh District Rep. Collin Peterson said he’d cast his superdelegate vote for Sanders, but only because that’s how his district voted.

On Thursday, Ellison — the second member of Congress to endorse Sanders and a top ally of the Vermonter — did not sound like he believed his candidate could become the nominee.

The Minneapolis Democrat told MinnPost that “it’s a math problem now. [Clinton] got a lot of pledged delegates. She got a lot of popular votes.”

Ellison seemed content to let Sanders take his time to consider his course forward, saying he never bought the argument that the length of his candidacy hurts Clinton’s chances in the general. “Bernie, after all the work he has done for the progressive movement, has earned a right to figure out what he wants to do.”

Sanders remaining in the race to the convention, Ellison said, “wouldn’t worry me. The worst it’d mean is he’d have one vote and then it’d be done… Look, he has done tremendous good. If he needs a few weeks to figure out what direction he wants to go in, I think he deserves that.”

Ellison said he had not decided if he would vote for Clinton at the convention, but he praised her, saying she could be an “excellent progressive president” and said her status as the U.S.’s first major-party female presidential nominee is something the country should be proud of.

Nolan — who called Clinton’s historic win “a great victory for the country” — spoke to MinnPost about the importance of party unity and the need to defeat Trump, whose rhetoric he called “unprecedented” and “disturbing.”

The congressman, who faces a tough re-election challenge in a district that Sanders carried by 30 points, agreed that the sooner the party moves on from the primary process, the better.

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Still, Nolan maintained, “I’m a believer in Bernie Sanders and his message, and I’m sticking with Bernie.” A superdelegate, he did not say whether or not he would vote for Clinton at the convention, but he said the party’s path forward will become clearer in the upcoming days and weeks.

Minnesota Clinton backers: unifying takes time

Minnesota’s two senators, Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, have both been active supporters of Clinton, stumping for her on the campaign trail and on television.

They, along with Rep. Tim Walz, were careful in the wake of Clinton’s victory to maintain a delicate balance: respecting Sanders and his improbable run and stressing the need to pivot to defeating Trump in November.

There was also talk of honoring what Sanders may want to do with his newfound clout within the party — something underscored by his appointment of five delegates of his choosing, including Ellison, to the panel that will draft the Democrats’ official party platform.

Speaking to MinnPost, Franken downplayed how contentious the Democratic primary had become, repeatedly comparing it to the hard-fought battle between Clinton and President Obama in 2008.

“I think this is really up to [Sanders] on how he wants to do this,” Franken said, “but I imagine he will do it in a way that is not that dissimilar to what [Clinton] did eight years ago.”

Four days after being mathematically eliminated in June 2008, Clinton conceded to Obama and endorsed him, and then went on to speak in favor of him at the convention and on the campaign trail.

What’s going on now, Franken said, is “still very much along the same timeline as she had eight years ago.”

Franken acknowledged Sanders’ huge well of support in Minnesota and nationally, as well as the raw feelings that can accompany a campaign falling short. But he said Sanders progressives — some of whom have deep reservations about supporting Clinton — will unify behind her.

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“If these people just look at the differences between Trump and her, they’ll come around, and I still think it’ll be sooner rather than later.”

Walz echoed that sentiment. “You’d like it to be nice and neat, with one nominee and everyone lined up behind them, well, that wouldn’t be democracy,” he said. “It’s a little bit messy. I’ve never been one that fretted too much about this, but I think there needs to be a clear understanding at the end that we’re in this together.”

“Make no mistake about it,” Walz said, “we have to be unified at the end, and there will only be one nominee, and the rules are what they are, and that will be the way it is.”

Appearing on MSNBC Tuesday night, Klobuchar said she has faith in Sanders and his promise to support the Democratic nominee, adding it is important to “give him time to figure out how and when he wants to do this.”

What now?

On one thing, however, the Minnesota Democrats appear to be on the same page: Sanders’ ideas, and his supporters, need to be an essential part of Clinton’s general election campaign.

“Bernie’s message is a message that has resonated with people all over the country,” Nolan said. “That message needs to carry forward, it needs to become a part of our campaign in an important and integral way as we approach November.”

Ellison expressed confidence that ardent Sanders supporters will eventually back Clinton. “People often say, you vote your hopes and not your fears,” he said. “But the truth is, a Trump presidency is a legitimate fear.”

“It matters who’s the president… You’ve gotta be realistic. We’ve gotta organize, we’ve gotta fight.”

None of the Clinton backers wanted to call on Sanders to drop out, and they were reluctant to say when he should decide on his path forward — or what would happen if he blows past the timeline Clinton had in 2008 in a bid to fight on to the convention.

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“There needs to be some understanding of what Sen. Sanders’ role is going to be that he earned, both in the Senate and in the party if that’s where he chooses to stay,” Walz said.

“Then, be very clear that when the convention starts, then the focus is there, we use that as an opportunity to talk to the nation about what we believe.”

“The convention,” Walz concluded, “is my timeline. I can’t fathom a world where, after the convention, we’re still debating this.”

Update: This article was updated to include comments from Rep. Keith Ellison.