HARTFORD, Conn. – Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton declined Thursday to urge challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders out of the primary race, but said she hopes he follows her 2008 model of endorsing and helping her if she defeats him.
“That’s up to him. I would never tell anybody what to do,” Clinton said during a town hall-style interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
The interview aired live from Times Square in New York before Clinton was due in Connecticut for a campaign stop aimed at rallying support for Tuesday’s primary vote here.
“That has to be a very personal decision,” she said of when to call off a primary bid. “But as I said, look, we have to come together as a country.”
She recounted how she fought a tough primary battle with then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 throughout the entire calendar of state contests.
“He ended up with more delegates and I withdrew. I endorsed him, then I got to work,” she said.
She added that when she pulled out in June of that year, some 40 percent of her supporters told pollsters they would not support Obama. That didn’t last, but it took her work and example to heal the rift, Clinton said.
“I had to get to work and I had to make the case. I nominated him at the convention. I went from group to group, even as late as the convention, convincing people who were my delegates to come together, to unify,” she said.
Then as now, she agrees with her rival much more than she disagrees with him, she said.
“We were successful, thank goodness, and he was elected," she said of Obama, who went on to name her as his first secretary of state. "So I'm hoping that the same thing will happen this time.”
Sanders has said he intends to remain in the race through the party convention in July. He and his allies maintain that despite a deficit of more than 200 pledged delegates, he can make up ground and win the nomination.
Sanders lost badly to Clinton in New York on Tuesday and is running well behind her in Pennsylvania and Maryland, the two largest states that vote next week. He could win in one or more of the smaller, heavily white states voting April 26: Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware.
Clinton leads Sanders 58 percent to 31 percent among registered Democratic likely voters in Pennsylvania in a Franklin & Marshall College poll released Thursday.
Clinton was confining her campaigning in Connecticut on Thursday to the biggest city, Hartford. The YMCA where she was speaking to a modest mid-day crowd is in a scruffy neighborhood where trash blew on the sidewalks and graffiti covered some boarded-up windows. Residents leaned over the balcony of a crumbling apartment house across the street to watch supporters lining up outside.
Clinton has vastly outperformed Sanders in urban areas in recent contests, including New York. She won every major city in the state except Albany, while Sanders won just about everywhere else and still lost by about 20 points. That is largely a reflection of the racial split that has come to define the Clinton-Sanders battle: She does better among minorities, he does best among white voters.
Clinton’s campaign accuses Sanders of souring the previously cordial Democratic race, but he has said he is only drawing fair comparisons about her ties to Wall Street and other issues. Some Clinton supporters have grown nervous about what they call Sanders’s attacks, which Republicans including front-runner Donald J. Trump are already repeating.
Clinton was asked to respond to a recent Trump remark about Sanders calling her unqualified.
“Obviously primary campaigns, general election campaigns, there's going to be a lot of contrasts drawn. People are going to fight hard to get the votes to win. I totally buy that. That's what we do, but let's not lose sight of what's really at stake here,” Clinton said.
She would not directly respond to Trump’s latest nickname for her, “crooked Hillary.”
“I am not going to be responding to all the crazy stuff he says,” Clinton said with a laugh.
The interview, which included questions from the audience, was postponed from last Friday because of what both ABC and the Clinton campaign said were scheduling conflicts.
Clinton had spent the morning the interview had been scheduled visiting a senior citizen center in East Harlem that primarily serves Latinos. She then left New York for a weekend of glitzy fundraisers in California that gave Sanders a prime opportunity to highlight her reliance on big donors. He had also taken time off the trail that day to fly to Rome for a Vatican conference on economic justice.
On Thursday, Clinton got questions about how she would draw in the young supporters who have flocked to Sanders if she is the nominee.
“I think it's terrific that so many young people are part of this process and I'm glad that I have a good base of support and I'm glad so many young people are supporting senator Sanders,” Clinton replied. “They are involved. That has to be good news for the Democratic Party, good news for our country.
“I have said to groups of Sanders's supporters that they may not support me now, I totally understand that, but I support them,” she continued. “I will always work in a way that keeps their futures in mind because that's what I think you are supposed to do when you have responsibilities of public office, particularly being president.”