Members of the Maine contingent backing Democratic presidential underdog Bernie Sanders at the party’s national convention later this month were stung by his endorsement of presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton on Tuesday.
The endorsement had been rumored for days and foreshadowed for weeks. Clinton, a former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state, clinched enough delegates to win the nomination in early June.
She was always the front-runner, but Sanders, a Vermont senator and self-described “democratic socialist,” ran an impressive, insurgent campaign far to Clinton’s left that captured 45 percent of pledged delegates behind dominant performances with young voters. Sanders won Maine easily in the March caucuses.
Clinton has work ahead of her to win over Sanders’ supporters. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that only 40 percent of his backers would commit to Clinton and pro-Sanders Facebook groups lit up with outrage over the endorsement.
Seth Berner, a Portland attorney and Sanders delegate, said on Tuesday afternoon that he was “totally devastated” by the endorsement.
He said it was almost exclusively because of timing, given that Sanders had said for months that he would fight with Clinton for every last delegate through the national convention, which starts on July 25 in Philadelphia.
But on Tuesday, Sanders said he’ll “do everything I can to make certain she will be the next president of the United States.”
Berner compared it to getting married, having 13 million children — the rough number of Sanders’ voters in the primary — “just to run off with someone who you’ve said you don’t agree much with and who doesn’t care about those children.”
“We knew that coming out of Philadelphia with the nomination would be unlikely,” Berner said, “but still, he has promised for a very long time that he would carry it through the convention.”
Former Maine Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash, the Democratic national committeeman for Maine who helped run Sanders’ Maine campaign, was at Tuesday’s endorsement rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and said it “was hard to see him up there talking about all the things he’s so passionate about.”
Clinton has adopted many of Sanders’ policy planks, including parts of a plan for free tuition to in-state colleges and opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, even though she helped negotiate that trade deal as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state. That makes Sanders supporters skeptical.
“I guess I’ve got to have more than one event to sell me,” Jackson said. “I’d rather see some time and commitment to these issues than just one speech.”
Cokie Giles, the president of the Maine State Nurses Association and a Sanders delegate from Brewer, said she was “disappointed” by the endorsement, but didn’t want to discuss it until her union’s national affiliate, which backed Sanders, could discuss it.
But the other two delegates, while delivering no ringing endorsement of Clinton, said they’d likely vote for her because the alternative — Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump — is so bad.
Trump has made overtures to Sanders voters, including at a July rally in Bangor. But Jackson said, “I just don’t see anything in Trump’s background that’s good for people like myself and the people I care about.”
But Berner cited polls that showed Sanders had an edge against Trump compared to margins against Clinton, saying it’ll be difficult for her to woo Sanders supporters who may be disengaged in a Clinton-Trump election.
“I’m worried about her chances to win,” he said. “If she does, I do think she’ll be better than Trump. Then we’ll see what she does.”