Stephanie Rosales paused and placed her hand over the crinkled sign adorning her shirt of a red heart outlining the name “Bernie” when asked whether she would vote this fall if Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee.
“It’s a tough call,” said Rosales, 22, a film major at Cal State L.A. She is the prototypical Bernie Sanders supporter — a college student upset by what she calls a cycle of the same politicians running for office. “I’ll have to reassess what I’ll do if Bernie doesn’t win, but I’m not there yet. I’m hopeful.”
Rosales, who attended Sanders’ rally in Los Angeles on Wednesday at the Wiltern Theatre, might have to arrive at that decision soon.
Crowds in the tens of thousands — Sanders rallied 10,000 supporters in San Diego on Tuesday — have been a hallmark of the Vermont senator’s campaign, but the turnout hasn’t translated into the votes he needs to surge past Clinton.
In his address to supporters Wednesday, Sanders delivered his typically populist stump speech peppered with staples of his candidacy: income inequality, free college tuition, the need to overhaul the criminal justice system. He noted his opposition to fracking and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement that Clinton has mildly opposed and which could cost her support in California.
“What this campaign is about asking the American people to think outside of the box and not think of the status quo today as the status quo we have to live in,” Sanders said to thunderous applause at the Wiltern, which at times felt like a rally on a college campus, the seats packed with young people energized by the 74-year-old rumpled senator.
But even with fervent support and victories Tuesday in Utah and Idaho, Sanders trails Clinton by about 300 pledged delegates. She crushed him in the day’s other contest in Arizona.
Clinton has already shifted her focus from Sanders to the general election and an anticipated matchup with Republican Donald Trump.
Sanders said he intends to campaign through California’s June 7 primary to the end of the nominating season. With Clinton, he faces an opponent with a long history in California. In 2008, she rallied women and Latinos to win the state’s primary over then-Sen. Barack Obama.
Exit polls have shown Sanders’ message resonating with liberal, college-educated white voters and millennials. But when it comes to minorities, he has struggled, losing contests in South Carolina, Ohio and Arizona, where black and Latino voters backed Clinton.
A poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California and released Wednesday night showed Clinton leading, 48% to 41%, among likely Democratic voters in California. The margin of error was plus or minus 6.2 percentage points.
Robert Serrano, 18, traveled from UC Merced, where he studies economics, and said he did not agree that minorities were not supporting Sanders.
“We are the future; we have the power,” said Serrano, who is Latino. “If enough come out to vote, he can have a chance here in California.”
Indeed, Latinos, who outnumber whites in the state, dominate California’s Democratic primary. And like with women and black voters, a generational divide exits, with many young minorities more willing to support Sanders.
“If he stays in until California — which he insists he will — it could offer him a win,” Serrano said. “I just hope it’s not too late.”
Sanders has remained formidable when it comes to fundraising. In February, he raised $43.5 million, while Clinton raised $30.1 million.
“He has the money, so there really is no incentive to drop out,” said Nathan L. Gonzales, a campaign analyst with the nonpartisan Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report. “He’s in the twilight of his career, getting attention for issues he’s fought for over the years. He has the incentive to stay.”
Even some Clinton supporters see no harm in Sanders remaining in the race, providing he directs his fire at Trump and other Republicans and not at Clinton.
“There will come a point when Democrats need to unify behind the nominee and take on a really tricky threat in Donald Trump,” said Bill Burton, a Clinton backer who served as deputy White House press secretary in the Obama administration. “But it doesn’t have to be right now.”
He said Clinton remaining in the 2008 primary until the late spring of that year was a positive for the party, boosting enthusiasm for the presidential contest and helping register new voters.
“I’m a Democrat. I just want what’s best for the party,” she said as Sanders spoke. “What’s best for the party to me is what’s best for America. To me, Sanders embodies what’s best for America.”
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