Colorado supporters of Bernie Sanders are in something of a purgatory.
The candidate who promised them a political revolution has also promised to do what he can to make sure Donald Trump doesn’t become the next president. That means that as his rival in the Democratic primary for president, Hillary Clinton, gets closer to snagging the party’s nomination in July, Sanders likely will have to exit the race.
He’s scheduled today to meet in person with Clinton.
As long as he’s still formally in contention, though, many of his most loyal supporters nationwide are keeping the faith. That’s especially the case in Colorado, where the Democratic socialist from Vermont crushed Clinton by 19 points in the March 1 caucuses.
“I’m still fighting for my candidate Bernie Sanders until I get direction from him otherwise,” says Democratic Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton, who was one of only a handful of lawmakers to publicly support Sanders during the primary race.
And if Clinton becomes the nominee? Salazar won’t even engage in hypotheticals.
Others in the Sanders coalition offered some ideas about where the enthusiasm for this unconventional candidate — whose bid drew a record Democratic turnout in the Colorado caucuses and led thousands to switch their unaffiliated voter status to registered Democrats — might be channeled should he end his candidacy.
“A lot of my energy, regardless of the way it goes, will be supporting progressive candidates at the local level and even other candidates that are running for Congress in other states,” says Nita Lynch, a 74-year-old semi-retired housing authority consultant in Denver who volunteered on the Sanders campaign in Colorado, Iowa, Illinois and California.
Lately, Lynch has been making phone calls for Lucy Flores, a congressional candidate in Nevada who Sanders has endorsed. And as a national delegate for Sanders, she has been pushing hard for a platform at July’s national convention in Philly that embodies issues Sanders championed as a candidate. That means raising the minimum wage, implementing universal healthcare, free college tuition at public universities, a “sane” immigration policy and environmental action.
“I think we really have the leverage to do that,” she says about the clout Sanders supporters might carry at the convention.
Closer to home in Colorado, Lynch has made a small donation to the ColoradoCare campaign, a ballot measure that aims to make Colorado the first state in the nation with universal healthcare. In a statement to The Colorado Independent in October, Sanders said of the initiative that Colorado could “lead the nation.” Lynch says she intends to hit the phones in support of the measure, regardless of who gets her party’s nomination — and she’s not alone.
“There are a number of people that I’ve known through working for the Bernie campaign as a volunteer who have taken lead roles on that,” Lynch says of the health care initiative.
Jonathan Singer, a Democratic House member who lives in Longmont, calls Sanders supporters in Colorado one of the most intellectually and politically diverse groups he has ever worked with. Singer wasn’t even a Democrat until 2004, when he registered with the party as one in support of the liberal presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.
Kucinich never made it through the primary that year, and Singer ended up voting for his party’s eventual nominee, John Kerry.
“But I really spent a lot of my time at home working for local progressive causes and candidates that I thought reflected my values more closely,” Singer says. “So I think that’s what a lot of folks are going to be doing.”
As for what that might look like in practice, Singer says he hopes support for Sanders will morph into grassroots support for progressive candidates running for seats in the State House and Senate in Colorado. And he says he hopes unaffiliated voters who missed the Jan. 4 deadline to become registered Democrats to vote for Bernie in those raucous caucuses might channel their energy into working to help pass ColoradoCare in November.
In a way, this year’s Sanders situation reminds Singer of what happened with those who backed the unsuccessful primary campaign of the liberal former Vermont governor, Howard Dean, in 2004. After Dean left the primary race, he went on to found the progressive organization Democracy for America. The group bred a young, new coalition of progressive voters, many of whom likely went on to help elect the nation’s first black president four years later.
Singer isn’t as strong a holdout as his Statehouse colleague Salazar. He can easily already envision a national convention in which Clinton becomes the nominee. But he warns that the way the convention plays out might affect the enthusiasm of many Sanders supporters and how much they engage in the near-future political process. A fair, transparent participatory convention — not a Clinton coronation — would likely mean more buy-in from people who have never been Democrats before, he says. A Clinton commitment to a progressive platform and a progressive vice-presidential pick could also do much to harness a new generation of progressive activists who might stay more involved.
Indeed, those thousands of Coloradans who made phone calls and knocked on doors for Sanders over the winter aren’t likely to get as excited for Clinton without some kind of outreach on behalf of her campaign.
In Colorado Springs, math teacher Bob Nemanich— who is also a Democratic Party precinct chair with a seat position in the electoral college— came out early and strong for Sanders. He recalls contentious meetings with other party officials over who the party should elect to the White House. Some established members in the local party stopped talking to him altogether. They took his support for Sanders as an affront.
What he sees now in the movement is a process of mourning.
“I don’t know if they’ll even vote,” he says of some in the Sanders revolution. “Most of them are coming around to the reality.”
How much ground support from the Sanders faithful Clinton can gain will be up to her campaign, he says.
“If a Hillary operative contacted me directly and sold me on supporting her, I would knock on doors for her,” Nemanich explains. But, he adds, if they expect him to help Clinton’s campaign just because he’s a Democratic Party official, he’ll instead go out and knock on doors for local progressive candidates running for the legislature or county commission.
Not everyone has such a concrete plan.
In Glenwood Springs, Sanders grassroots organizer Barb Coddington is still deciding how she’ll handle the top of the ticket in November. She wonders if Sanders might accept an overture from the Green Party’s nominee for president, Jill Stein.
“I will not write him in,” she says of Sanders in November. “But If he appears on the ballot … I would vote for him.”
In the meantime, Coddington has been channeling her energy into gathering petitions for three ballot measures that would give local communities more control over fracking, and she’s fighting against an initiative called Raise the Bar, which would make it harder to amend Colorado’s constitution.
Coddington called it a “betrayal” that the state’s Democratic superdelegates stuck with Clinton after Sanders trounced her in the Colorado caucuses.
“But I’m an old woman,” she says. “What about these kids that are coming into the party … to have their participation and their enthusiasm just kind of ignored?”
Whatever happens, like plenty of Centennial State Sanders supporters, she doesn’t want the movement Bernie built here to fade with his electoral prospects.
“We’re trying to stay organized,” she says. “To remain in touch and organized so that we can further his issues — his so-called revolution, [in] which I thoroughly believe.”
Photo credit: Benjamin Kerensa, Creative Commons, Flickr