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Three days into the DNC, are Sanders backers #WithHer yet?

To some Sanders supporters, the Clinton camp has hit the right notes in victory; to others, they’ve done nothing right.

Before the Vermont senator took the stage, a long Sanders campaign ad played to the crowd, as delegates were handed Clinton-sanctioned “Bernie” signs.
REUTERS/Jim Young

On Tuesday, the effort to elect Sen. Bernie Sanders president came to an end.

After a roll call vote on the Democratic National Convention floor — and a symbolic call from Sanders to unanimously nominate her — Hillary Clinton officially became the Democratic Party’s nominee for president.

For most Sanders supporters, that was a foregone conclusion — though some of them began the convention on Monday by booing mentions of Clinton and chanting “Bernie!” Then, after Clinton’s official nomination on Tuesday, some Sanders supporters stormed out of the convention hall and staged a sit-in in the media tent.

This week’s gathering in Philadelphia — identified by both sides as a chance for party unity — was meant to be a way for the Clinton camp to extend an olive branch to Sanders supporters.

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Three days into the convention, not all Minnesota Sanders delegates agree that has been the case: they are on different pages as to whether party unity has actually been achieved. To some, the Clinton camp has hit the right notes in victory; to others, they’ve done nothing right.

What does Clinton need to do to convince skeptical Minnesotans to get with her?

Pulling off the balancing act

Over the past three days, the Clinton camp and the Democratic Party have attempted to pull off a balancing act: making a full-throated general election case for Clinton and against Donald Trump, while publicly making a point of honoring Sanders’ unexpectedly tenacious campaign, and giving him and his supporters a chance to celebrate their progressive message.

To that end, Sanders was given the closing address on Monday night, and several of his biggest backers — including Rep. Keith Ellison — were given prominent pulpits upon which to praise Sanders and his campaign’s achievement. Before he took the stage, a long Sanders campaign ad played to the crowd, as delegates were handed Clinton-sanctioned “Bernie” signs.

The convention crowd — one where Sanders supporters are numerically a minority but have often sounded like the majority — ate it all up, roaring their approval at even the mere mention of Sanders’ name or the sight of him on the main stage screen.

To some, what’s happened at the convention, and in the weeks since Sanders endorsed Clinton, is representative a good-faith effort from the Clinton camp to court Sanders supporters and bring them into the her campaign as partners.

Minneapolis DFL Rep. Frank Hornstein said that Democrats are “coming together and unifying very nicely” this week. “The fact that Bernie gave a very strong endorsement on Monday night was very helpful to help unify the party,” he said. “If Bernie’s feeling good about this, I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

Asad Zaman, a delegate from Inver Grove Heights and chair of the Muslim Caucus of the DFL, said “the Hillary campaign has gone out of their way to reach out to the Bernie delegates, and I’m appreciative of that,” adding he hopes they continue the effort. “The onus is upon them now to convince these independent-minded and progressive voters to come on their side.”

‘Bernie is my Paul Wellstone’

Several of the Sanders delegates who spoke with MinnPost, though, did not seem quite ready to embrace Clinton immediately, even if they suggested they would eventually. Many were invigorated by a movement-sparking Sanders campaign, an effort to which many of these Minnesota delegates devoted countless hours of organizing, phone calling, and door-knocking.

Lindsey Ketchel, from Woodrow Township in Cass County, is one of those people. She knows Sanders better than perhaps any other Minnesota delegate: she moved to Minnesota from Burlington, Vermont — the city Sanders served as mayor in the 1980s, as U.S. House representative from 1991 to 2006, and as U.S. senator since. She used to sell cars with Sanders’ campaign manager and right-hand man, Jeff Weaver.

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“This is family to me,” Ketchel said. “Bernie is my Paul Wellstone. I will be very up-front with you: yesterday was probably one of the hardest days I’ve had in a long time, because that man has incredibly integrity, he has incredible love, and he’s showing us the right way to move forward.”

She likened Sanders’ campaign to “the Bad News Bears showing up and winning the World Series — I should say, winning a couple of good games. Ultimately, they won the World Series overall but I will also say, there is tension, I’m not going to lie.”

Ketchel recalled the first Minnesota delegation breakfast on Monday, where she believed top Democrats like Franken and Klobuchar mistakenly assumed everyone in the delegation was ready to unify and support Clinton.

She said she thinks the Clinton camp “expects us to work really hard on the campaign right now, knocking on doors and making phone calls. When you make that level of commitment, you’re so passionate about your leader, that’s all you’re thinking about, and I’m not there yet. It’s going to take time.”

“We’re physically and emotionally exhausted.”

Rich Updegrove, a delegate from Duluth, said he was pleased that Sanders supporters have made their presence known at the convention. “It wasn’t let’s just get on the bandwagon without a protest,” he said.

He said that by limiting floor debate on superdelegates and the platform, the party establishment backed Sanders people into a corner. “You really put all the Sanders people in a position of, the only way to let your voice be known is in a disrespectful way, because they took away all the respectful routes.”

Updegrove also said that Clinton’s selection of Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, widely considered a centrist Democrat, as her running-mate was a signal she is taking the progressive base for granted.

“I expected coming into the convention that there would be a big push to bring the Sanders supporters in but it’s actually been the opposite. They made a calculation that they don’t need us, and that’s hard to hear.”

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‘It’s a joke’

To some hard-line Sanders supporters, it’s long been too late to be convinced to support Clinton. Jacob Christy, a delegate from Elk River, said the Clinton camp’s efforts to win over progressives “are a joke.”

“I don’t feel comfortable with how they treated us at all. This entire process, this convention, it’s a joke,” he said, wearing a Robin Hood hat — an accessory that has become a sign of solidarity among Sanders supporters — and a neon shirt reading a quote from Sanders that says “Enough is enough.”

“They rigged the primary. They denied our voice,” Christy said. “Any criticism of her highness is met with a fierce opposition and I, for one, feel silenced.”

He said that the Minnesota Clinton delegates are good people with whom he happens to disagree. But he did say that, on the first day of the convention, he encountered some hostility.

On Monday, when Sanders supporters started chanting “Bernie” during Rev. Cynthia Hale’s mention of Clinton in the invocation, Christy said “the gentleman in front of me turned to me and said, ‘It’s called class.’”

When asked who he planned to vote for, Christy declined to say.

‘I just want to be convinced’

For many Minnesota Sanders supporters, a four-day convention celebrating Clinton isn’t going to erase bitter memories of the primary, no matter how many Sanders tributes there were.

So when Clinton accepts her nomination for president tonight, what can she say to get them on board with her now — or, failing that, by November?

Hornstein emphasized the issues: he says Clinton will succeed if she speaks to Sanders supporters on their terms, by focusing heavily on income inequality, free college tuition, climate change, and racial disparities. “These are all critical issues not only for Bernie, but for progressives all over the country, and to give expression to those would be very helpful.”

To others, there should be more forceful recognition of the contributions made by Sanders and his supporters.

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Armando Gutierrez, a delegate from Mendota Heights, said “there needs to be some acknowledgement of what has taken place, not only the political revolution movement, but we’d also like to hear some acknowledgement of the need to hear and harness the new energy that we have.

“All the leadership should embrace us and not hold us as being the bad people,” he said. “We’re just trying to keep the democratic process going.”

Ultimately, others just wanted something simple: to be persuaded.

Shauna Valdez, a delegate from New Brighton, is still a little skeptical of the nominee. “Clinton, she talks the talk and doesn’t always walk the walk. She could say a lot of things and I might not be enthusiastic because I’m not confident she’s actually going to do what she says.”

She said that if Clinton strongly condemned the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, “I’d be like, that’s awesome. I can get behind that. I want to be optimistic. It’s been a tough week.”

“It would be awesome to have a woman in the White House,” she said, “and I’d like to be able to be excited about that. I just want to be convinced she’s the woman to get the job done.”