Sanders’ backers get the attention, but Clinton has passionate supporters too
Eight years ago, Ginny Roemer could have been described as “Clinton or bust.”
Furious that Hillary Clinton was being edged out of the Democratic nomination by Barack Obama, she spent days protesting outside the party’s national convention in Denver. When November came around, she didn’t cast a ballot.
This year, if everything goes according to plan, Roemer will be inside the Democratic convention in Philadelphia as a delegate, backing the woman she has long hoped would be the country’s first female president. Outside the convention will likely be “Bernie or bust” protesters, die-hard supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders who feel much the way Roemer did eight years ago.
“I know how they feel,” Roemer said. “I don’t want to see him humiliated.”
But she does want to see him lose.
There are only a few primaries left, including California and New Jersey on Tuesday. Although Clinton is expected to win enough delegates to secure the nomination before voting ends on the West Coast, she’s aiming to avoid an embarrassing loss in California, where the latest USC/LA Times poll and other surveys show a tight race.
Sanders has barnstormed the state, showcasing support from young voters whose brash, outspoken and unyielding enthusiasm for the Vermont senator has sometimes eclipsed the fact that Clinton also has a loyal and deeply committed following.
Clinton’s ardent backers are older and more likely to be women – in short, people like Roemer, a 62-year-old lawyer whose house in Berkeley has a giant Clinton sign on the fence around the front yard, and another just inside the front door.
People don’t love her. They don’t give her the benefit of the doubt. But I do.
Sarah Gill, 79
Visitors to the house, like those who gathered there on a recent night for phone banking, encounter a veritable shrine to Clinton – a table loaded with campaign signs, pins, a photo of Clinton with Obama – plus several bottles of pinot noir. The grapes were grown on the farm Roemer owns with her husband in the Anderson Valley, and the homemade labels say “bottled in 2008 ... elected in 2016,” with portraits of George Washington and Clinton side by side.
While Roemer served burritos and slices of pie, women spread out around the house to make phone calls, sitting around the dining room table, on a couch in the living room, outside on the back patio. While they dialed for votes, Roemer’s dog hunted for playmates, gnawing on a squeaky football.
The youngest volunteer was Allie Janoch, 28. Like many millennials who find themselves surrounded by people their parents’ age, she played tech support, helping the callers with a computer program that cycles through potential supporters’ numbers.
Sarah Gill, 79, an art historian, struck gold early, dialing the number of a Clinton supporter.
“That’s great!” she said. Then she started to question the voter about her mail ballot.
“Are you planning to get it mailed pretty soon?”
“Can you get it in, you think?”
Another pause, followed by a more insistent comment.
“It’s important to get your vote in,” Gill said.
Another call didn’t go so well.
“You don’t vote?” Gill said. “Shame on you!”
Then she hung up.
Gill has been a Clinton supporter since hearing her speak at a San Francisco fundraiser in 2008.
“She was fabulous,” she said. “She wasn’t charming like her husband [former President Bill Clinton], but she does her homework on everything.”
For women at the phone bank, Clinton is the worker bee who never gets enough credit, and sometimes gets overshadowed by the flashier men around her. Doubts about Clinton’s trustworthiness, which polls show many voters see as her biggest political weakness, they dismiss as sexism.
“People don’t love her. They don’t give her the benefit of the doubt,” Gill said. “But I do.”
Affection for Clinton often dates back years. Lowell Brook, a local artist, said she put a photo of the new first lady on the inside of a cupboard door in 1992.
“I was inspired,” said Brook, 76. “I could see courage.”
“We’re older; we’re married and settled and have jobs,” said Terry Roemer, 61, a lawyer like Ginny, her sister. “We’re not in it for the socializing.”
They also view other, quieter tactics as more effective.
“I don’t need to put a sign on my lawn ... if I make 20 phone calls and get three voters who wouldn’t have otherwise voted,” said Liz Vahlsing, a 58-year-old art director. By comparison, she recalled encountering Sanders volunteers during the Nevada caucuses who were “young, aggressive and untrained.”
Simone DuBois was one of the passionate Clinton supporters who joined Roemer in protesting the national convention in 2008. Now 52 and working for a telecommunications company, she’s far less interested in arguing.
“When someone tells me they’re voting for Bernie, I just say, ‘have a blessed day,’” she said.
But DuBois is eager for Sanders to throw in the towel.
“He’s just a stubborn guy who hasn’t dropped out yet,” she said.
During the phone bank she wore a shirt reading “Deal me in,” a reference to Clinton’s defense against criticisms that she was “playing the woman card” in the campaign. On her feet were custom Converse sneakers that said “Hil Star” instead of “All Star,” a gift from her wife.
So sure is DuBois of Clinton’s victory that she has already made campaign pins with the dates 2016 and 2020 for November and a reelection campaign.
Roemer and DuBois, who became friends during the 2008 primary, plan to keep campaigning for Clinton after the primary, in a battleground state, they hope. Roemer talked about Ohio, but DuBois thought Florida might be a balmier option in November.
Wherever they’re needed, they plan to go together.
“This time,” they said, “we win.”
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