For some Show Me State supporters, Sanders campaign leaves a big mark
PHILADELPHIA – Ralph Trask doesn’t want Donald Trump to become president. But that doesn’t mean he’s completely sold on Hillary Clinton.
Trask is a farmer from Iron County who is attending the Democratic National Convention as a Bernie Sanders delegate. He arrived in Philadelphia amid a somewhat tense time between supporters of the two campaigns, and national speculation over whether Sanders supporters can work this fall for Clinton.
While relations within the relatively evenly split Missouri delegation have been very civil compared to other states, Trask says he has some big reservations about the presumptive Democratic nominee.
“It’s a very complicated, long system,” Trask said. “I feel Mr. Trump has no business being president. But when he said it’s 'crooked' Hillary, he got it right.”
Not every Sanders supporter in the Missouri delegation expressed sentiments exactly like Trask. Many are using his campaign as motivation to get more involved in politics. And unlike certain GOP presidential hopefuls, Sanders offered an explicit endorsement of his former challenger. In fact on Monday night, he told his supporters at Wells Fargo Center that "Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States."
Sanders echoed that message on Tuesday morning when he made a surprise appearance the Missouri delegation's breakfast. He said to the crowd that "our job right now is to make certain that we defeat somebody who is the worst presidential candidate of my lifetime."
"Donald Trump is a disaster for this country and all of us have got to do everything that we can to elect Secretary Clinton," said Sanders, a statement that received applause and shouts of 'thank you Bernie.' "I look forward with working with all of you. And let's go forward together."
For Raymore resident Billy Moffett, that gives him a pretty straightforward choice in November.
“Trump is bad news. … There’s nobody else that I think can beat him,” Moffett said. “ [Green Party nominee Jill Stein], she’s not going to get the votes needed to overthrow the Republican candidate. Even though it will kind of feel dirty for me to vote for Hillary because I’ve done so much work for Bernie, I know what’s right and what we’ve got to do to beat Trump.”
Some Sanders supporters are looking at the bigger picture and at getting involved in local and state legislative races to provide momentum to his slate of policy goals. One of the people in that category is Curtis Wylde, a professional wrestler.
Wylde, who is also seeking a state representative seat in St. Charles County, said Sanders’ candidacy moved the Democratic Party on a number of key issues – such as trade, the influence of Wall Street and college affordability. That, he said, is a major accomplishment.
“His candidacy provided a lot of important lessons for our world, because a lot of people look to the United States as an example,” Wylde said. “And we really set an example that shows that we don’t have to bow down to big money interests to run for office to give a solid campaign for the presidency of the United States.”
St. Louis Alderman and Sanders delegate Megan Green said Sanders’ strong performance in out-state Missouri should provide some instruction for the state party. She says it shows how a populist message can break through in areas that are tough for Democrats.
“So much of what Sanders has talked about are these bread and butter economic issues,” Green said. “And we have a lot of folks, especially in rural Missouri, who are hurting. Their union jobs have disappeared. And they’re looking for a reinvestment back into labor: A strengthening of unions. Not participating in all of these fair trade agreements that ship jobs overseas. And I think that goes back to a real economic issue where we’re starting to realize we’ve had way too many millionaires and billionaires who are continuing to get wealthy, while ordinary Americans are struggling everyday.”
Before the convention gaveled into order on Monday, two Clinton supporters used a morning breakfast to make direct appeals to Sanders backers in Missouri.
In a rousing speech, author and television personality Michael Eric Dyson alluded to the release of unflattering emails that led to Wasserman Schultz’s departure. He joked that before the explosion of the Internet and social media, people would “gossip on you” without leaving an electronic paper trail.
“This is what happens. We are not panicking,” said Dyson, who supported Clinton during the primaries. “Thank God for the last seven and a half years. We’ve had a very cool customer occupying the space that the next president of the United States of America and the first woman to made president of the United of States of America” will win.
After his speech, Dyson said he appreciated “how Bernie Sanders pushed Hillary Clinton in progressive directions and the embrace of ideas.” But he went onto say “now is the time for party unity.”
“Now is the time to understand how to be graceful in forging connection with those with whom you formally disagree, but now you’re in the same party and you must move forward,” Dyson said.
Near the end of a short speech, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill turned to a corner of the room where many Sanders delegates had congregated. McCaskill, an early Clinton supporter, then said “I’m happy if you want to chew on me about things that you’re not happy about. That’s part of my job.”
“But I’m sincere in wanting to leave here with a relationship with everybody in this delegation. That means we can knit together in a state that, in case you haven’t noticed, is difficult to get across the finish line for Democrats. I’ve got a witness!” said McCaskill, referring to her hard-fought statewide victories. “I’ve got a witness! It is hard. It is hard.”
McCaskill said after her address that Wasserman Schultz’s resignation was a positive thing for the party, “because now we can move on and get past this and get everybody together.” And she contended that Sanders and Clinton aren’t as far apart on issues as people think.
“There may be some differences around the edges,” McCaskill said. “But the core of what Clinton wants: Help with college education, paid family leave, investing in infrastructure, doing something about climate change. I mean, these are the echoes of both of these campaigns.”
For her part, Green said McCaskill “was a great step toward unity and really extending an olive branch to Sanders supporters,” adding that “we haven’t seen that type of olive branch from the Clinton campaign or from the DNC.” But among other things, Green added some Sanders supporters weren’t happy Wasserman Schultz was named an honorary chair for Clinton’s 50 state campaign.
Whatever happens over the next few days, Clinton delegate Amanda Kelley said she hopes Sanders backers stay involved in the political process. That’s a certainty for Green and Wylde, who will serve as Democratic National Committee members for the next four years.
“It’s slow and steady that wins the race. If you jump with both feet, what happens is you go straight to the bottom,” said Kelley, who lives in St. Charles. “And that’s what people do. And then they don’t know how to fight their way back up. So I think as long as they stay in and keep themselves engaged and do it in a respectful manner and listen to the other person and allow themselves to sway that other person slowly, things will change.”
Copyright 2016 St. Louis Public Radio