"Lucy Flores is exactly the kind of person I'm going to need in Congress when I am president," Sanders wrote in a news-making April fundraising email. "And we can help get her there."
Flores handily lost a low-turnout primary, running 14 points behind State Sen. Ruben Kihuen, who is now the slight favorite to head to Congress. It was the closest of the routs against Sanders's candidates, and it was telling for how little "the establishment" candidate differed from the candidate of "the revolution." While Sanders backed a 36-year-old progressive Latina legislator, the Culinary Workers union and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) backed a 36-year-old progressive Latino legislator. Kihuen was the sponsor of a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, a major Sanders objective. Flores had badly lost her 2014 bid for statewide office; Kihuen offered a fresh face and similar policies.
The tough Nevada losses underscored the difficulty of what Sanders is trying to do next. Without conceding the nomination, he is asking supporters to help elect supportive candidates in primaries and show up in Philadelphia to change the Democratic Party. He will not, as some media speculated, use a coming Thursday night message to supporters to end his campaign. He may rally his base outside the convention itself, similar to what former Texas congressman Ron Paul did after his 2008 and 2012 bids for the Republican nomination.
But there's division about how far Sanders's fellow revolutionaries want to go — or can go. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sanders's highest-profile endorser, fulfilled his promise last week to support the winner of the pledged delegate contest. "I absolutely support Hillary Clinton," he said. Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action, has steered that organization away from the "contested convention" by recognizing Clinton's victory.
"MoveOn.org is officially congratulating Hillary Clinton on her historic, hard-fought, and successful run and being the presumptive Democratic nominee for president," Sheyman wrote in a Medium post this morning. "We’re so grateful to Bernie Sanders for the historic campaign he’s run that’s tapped into a powerful movement of millions of Americans who demand a government that works for all of us, not just corporations and billionaires. Bernie Sanders has pledged to do everything he can to defeat Donald Trump this November, and MoveOn is proud to stand with him in this fight."
Both Merkley and Sheyman attended this past week's meeting of Sanders supporters in Burlington. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who also attended the meeting, did not say that Sanders's campaign was over. In an interview yesterday, he echoed Sanders's comments to reporters in D.C. about the party reforms his delegates would demand in Philadelphia.
"I think the outline for what comes next is clear," he said. "It has to do with the influence of big money on campaigns, the role of the superdelegates, a minimum wage at $15/hour, climate change and the role of independents in our primaries. We believe all of them should be open. I think there's other things Bernie spoke to us about, but I want him to be the one that explains it."
The Nevada primaries were not ideal tests for Sanders's "revolution." There's more invested in Tim Canova, the academic and former Senate aide now challenging Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). Canova has raised more than $1 million and signed up veterans of Sanders's historically successful New Hampshire campaign to help him in Florida.
But Sanders is still working through the mechanics of movement-building in downballot races. While his supporters try to beat Wasserman Schultz at the polls, Sanders insists — as he insisted at Tuesday's news conference — that she should be replaced as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. Over the course of the primaries, Sanders-friendly candidates were only haphazardly promoted by the senator himself. At one point, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) was invited to one of Sanders's few rallies in Florida, changed his schedule, and showed up — but was not given a speaking slot.
That was bygones for Grayson. In an interview Tuesday, the congressman defended Sanders's right to stay in the race and suggested that it harked back to the days when candidates with something to say did not end their presidential bids until a convention's delegates weighed in.
"I'm puzzled by the focus on whether he suspends his campaign," Grayson said. "What's important is whether he decides to endorse Clinton, assuming that she's the nominee. Not when he ends his own campaign. Traditionally, until the last few decades, campaigns never ended before the convention."
John Wagner contributed to this report.