There were boos at the mention of Clinton's name, but not many. The largely Latino crowd in east Los Angeles's Lincoln Park offered no chants or "Bernie or Bust" heckles. As his campaign quietly fights to influence July's Democratic National Convention, Sanders is limiting his own critiques of Clinton to electability and to her support from super PACs that can collect unlimited donations. It's a night-and-day difference from what Clinton's supporters feared, or the brief period when Sanders pronounced the front-runner "not qualified" for the presidency.
It's also 99 percent similar to the message Sanders has delivered since his campaign began a year ago, and his campaign is perplexed by the effort to hear something else. Last week, it watched liberal columnists lash out after the New York Times ran a front-page story on Sanders's willingness to "harm Hillary Clinton in the homestretch." The liberal news-watching group FAIR criticized the newspaper for describing Sanders's goal, defeating Clinton, in terms that suggested that he was readying new attacks. Sanders campaign spokesman Michael Briggs agreed, labeling it "one of the most ridiculous stories I've ever seen."
Days later, the Los Angeles Times reported on a "California truce" between the Sanders and Clinton campaigns, suggesting that the senator from Vermont and the former president Bill Clinton "appeared to be singing from the same sheet music" by attacking Donald Trump but not each other. That wasn't how the Sanders campaign saw it, either. The goal in California was to win its June 7 primary, by as much as possible. That meant expanding the electorate, not focusing on Clinton.
"The secretary herself went all the way to the end of the process in 2008," Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said in a Monday interview on MSNBC. "In fact the numbers you show about the number of Sanders supporters who would support the secretary I think [was] similar to the number of Hillary Clinton supporters who said they would support Barack Obama at the same time back in 2008. And as we all know, Barack Obama won a resounding victory."
In hours of speeches during his Southern California campaign swing, Sanders has ticked off nearly every item on his governing agenda. At Sunday rallies in Vista and Irvine, he talked about the fight to end "starvation wages" and the economic plight of Native Americans. In Lincoln Park, he ran through student loan debt, underemployment, police reform, infrastructure ("every once in a while, you read about a bridge somewhere that collapsed"), the war on drugs, and a surtax on Wall Street. He made no mention of foreign policy, an issue where his differences with Clinton are starkest and where newly announced pro-Sanders members of the DNC's platform committee like Cornel West and James Zogby are expected to push hard.
At one point, Sanders asked Clinton to "join me in telling the fossil fuel industry" to rein in environmental abuse, leaving out his old attack line on how her State Department favored American allies expanding their use of fracking. Sanders even did Clinton a subtle favor in the now-standard portion of his speech where he warned that the front-runner, whose unfavorable ratings hang in the 50s, would risk losing the election to Trump. "One poll, released yesterday, has Secretary Clinton beating Trump by 3 points — and this campaign defeating Trump by 15 points!" said Sanders. He was citing a survey from NBC News, and not the ABC News-Washington Post poll that had shown Trump eking out a lead over Clinton. (One reason might have been its smaller, four-point lead for Sanders.)
In lieu of attacks, Sanders is arguing that he can add so many new voters to the primary electorate that he can win an upset victory. Monday was the cutoff for voters to register, pending the results of a lawsuit (from some Sanders allies) trying to push the deadline closer to June 7. "Anybody who looks at Secretary Clinton's campaign and our campaign will see that the enthusiasm, and the energy, and the drive, is with us," he said in Vista. In Los Angeles, he assessed that as many as 1.5 million voters would join the voter pool, with Democratic or "no party preference" registrations that would allow them to vote in the primary.
"We believe we are going to do something in this campaign that has never, ever been done in the modern history of Democratic politics," Sanders said at a news conference after the speech. "We will be holding rallies up and down the state, the central part of the state, that we think will bring out at least 200,000 people. We expect that, roughly speaking, some 5 million people will be participating in the Democratic primary June 7. To win that, you're gonna need about 250 million people. And we think we stand a good chance, above and beyond everything else we're doing, to communicate with about 10 percent of the votes that we need to win here in California."
Sanders, who needs 68 percent of the remaining delegates to win a majority, has been careful not to predict that outcome. At his rallies, he asks voters to help him secure victory and "a large number" of the 475 delegates available in California. No poll has shown Sanders in the position to do that, and on Monday, a SurveyUSA survey showed Clinton expanding what had been a 14-point lead to a 19-point lead. Overcoming that might mean less talk about Clinton and more about issues that could pull out the people to overwhelm her traditional Democratic base.
"I think it makes sense to legalize marijuana," Sanders said in Los Angeles. "If I were here in your state, I would vote yes on that issue."