Bernie Sanders’s vow to continue “the struggle” was met with a range of reactions Wednesday from supporters, with many suggesting he should be given the space to compete in next week’s final primary in the District of Columbia before turning his attention toward unifying the Democratic Party.
Sanders lost decisively Tuesday to Hillary Clinton in California, the most populous state in the nation and one where he had hoped to post a large, statement-making victory. He also dropped three of the other five states that voted Tuesday, including New Jersey, where the second highest number of delegates was at stake.
What once was a “narrow path” to catch Clinton in the delegate chase all but completely vanished, with media outlets declaring her the presumptive Democratic nominee.
As the senator from Vermont flew home Wednesday from Los Angeles, several high-profile supporters said they sympathize with Sanders’s desire to compete in the nation’s capital primary next week, making good on his promise to stay in the race until every primary vote is cast. But there was less support for his last-ditch effort to persuade hundreds of superdelegates -- elected officials and other Democratic elites -- to switch their support from Clinton to him.
“I think we’re all still waiting for him to give us direction on where to go,” said Erin Bilbray, a member of the Democratic National Committee who backs Sanders. “He’s a good, moral human being, and I would expect him to start talking more about unity in the next few weeks.”
At the same time, Bilbray, who is among the party’s 718 superdelegates, said she thinks Sanders deserves some time to process Tuesday’s results and come up with ways to make sure the issues that animated his campaign are furthered.
“Knowing Sanders, he’s going to want to make sure his key issues don’t get swept off the table,” Bilbray said.
Democracy for America, a liberal grass-roots organization that endorsed Sanders, said in a statement that its position is that the Democratic candidate who receives the most pledged delegates -- those won in primaries and caucuses -- should be the party’s nominee.
In this case, that’s Clinton, who has now won more than a majority of pledged delegates. Sanders’s only path involves asking superdelegates to overturn the will of the voters.
That said, the Democracy for America signaled it doesn’t want to push Sanders too hard to stand down.
“As the primary campaign comes to a close, the very least the Democratic establishment can do … is provide Bernie Sanders the time and the space he needs to determine the best steps he can take to help unite our party against Donald Trump in the days and weeks ahead,” Jim Dean, the organization’s chairman, said in a statement.
Heather Mizeur, a DNC member from Maryland and a superdelegate backing Sanders, echoed that sentiment in an interview Wednesday.
“After we wrap up the primary calendar next Tuesday in D.C., I expect Senator Sanders will be doing everything he can to bring about party unity to support our nominee, and that our nominee will do everything possible to show that the grass-roots voters and their concerns will be center stage as the campaign heads into November.”
In any case, Mizeur said, she doesn’t expect a party “smackdown” over the allegiances of superdelegates in coming weeks.
Other Sanders boosters remain in more of a fighting posture, however.
Benjamin Jealous, a former NAACP president who supports Sanders, said Sanders should continue in the race as a means to draw concessions from Clinton about important policy issues.
“Sanders needs to fight until it’s clear that the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate are going to pursue a progressive course,” Jealous said.
He said that Clinton needs to show “the same grace and shrewdness” that then-Sen. Barack Obama did eight years ago when he sought to bring Clinton’s supporters on board after defeating her for the nomination.
“That’s the way it works,” Jealous said. “That’s just Politics 101.”
“My concern is Hillary,” he said. “Eight years ago, Obama was reaching out to her and making concessions to get her on board. I’ve not heard any suggestions that they’re willing to make major concessions.”
In particular, Jealous said, he’d like to see Clinton move to the left on issues including war, health care, trade and jobs.
“The question Hillary needs to ask is, ‘Does she need all of our votes?’” Jealous said.
RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, the first nationwide labor union to back Sanders, said efforts to unify with Clinton were made more difficult by the way the media declared her the presumptive nominee.
That characterization emerged Monday night -- on the eve of primaries and caucuses in California and the five other states -- after the Associated Press updated a running tally of superdelegates who plan to back Clinton. The updated figure pushed Clinton’s total delegate total over the threshold needed to win the nomination.
DeMoro said many Sanders supporters were angered by what she called “a collusion” between the AP and the Clinton campaign -- something both sides deny. And she said the premature call of the race for Clinton tamped down voter turnout Tuesday.
“I believe we would have won California and perhaps New Mexico if not for what happened,” she said.
DeMoro said “it’s really up to Bernie” how much longer he wants to press his campaign. But she said she sees some advantage to a continuing effort to try to flip superdelegates.
“I think anything that gets Bernie an audience to amplify his issues is a good use of time,” she said.