Hillary Clinton, even if she can secure the Democratic nomination in the coming weeks, will have to do more than just make peace with Bernie Sanders’ supporters. She’ll need to persuade his true believers they share the same goals -- and to go out and vote for her.
Exit polls consistently show swaths of the Sanders base, at least right now, are uneasy about the idea of supporting Clinton in November.
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, in an interview with Fox News’ “Hannity,” went so far Monday as to claim Sanders’ young supporters “are going to come over to my side because they want jobs.” Trump cited common ground with Sanders on trade.
Whether anti-Clinton supporters of the democratic socialist senator really would gravitate toward the billionaire businessman -- or simply stay home -- is an open question. But anticipating some bad blood, Clinton has taken the first steps toward reconciliation with Sanders supporters in recent weeks.
“Whether you support Senator Sanders or you support me, there’s much more that unites us than divides us,” Clinton said last week after winning four out of five state primaries.
The front-running Clinton devoted nearly half her victory speech to highlighting such shared goals as increasing wages, expanding Social Security and defending the rights of women and minorities.
“So in this election, we will work together and work hard to prevail against candidates on the other side who would threaten those rights,” said Clinton, who will try to add to her wins Tuesday in Indiana, one of 11 remaining state contests.
The extent to which Clinton can break through with Sanders’ devoted supporters, though, may depend on Sanders.
“He needs to set the tone. If he backs her like Clinton backed Obama in their 2008 race, then it will be more than enough to tip the scales,” said Democratic strategist Douglas Smith, a partner at Kent Strategies.
He said the two candidates indeed have shared goals for the country, despite taking different paths to reach them.
But there are hold-outs among Sanders' supporters. Fox News exit polls in the April 26 primaries showed the depth of the divide.
In Connecticut, 17 percent of Democrats said they would not back Clinton if she’s the nominee. Among Sanders’ supporters, the number shot up to 90 percent.
In Maryland, 13 percent of Democrats said they would not back Clinton in November, while 79 percent of Sanders' supporters made the same vow.
The Clinton campaign did not respond to questions Monday about whether Clinton has indeed started to woo Sanders voters as she prepares for a possible general election race.
She’s getting closer to the nomination, having collected 2,165 of the 2,383 delegates -- or roughly 90 percent -- needed to secure the nomination before the party’s July convention.
However, the exit polls and other signs suggest Clinton -- a former secretary of state, senator and first lady -- will have to convince anti-establishment Sanders supporters, including many young voters, that she is trustworthy and neither a Washington insider nor a Wall Street supporter.
Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said Monday the best way for Clinton to try to woo Sanders supporters would be to contrast her views with those of the Republican candidates, beyond trying to explain shared concerns and goals.
“On policy issues, the divide between Sanders and Clinton is almost infinitesimal, compared to the wide gulf between Clinton and Donald Trump or Ted Cruz,” said Levinson, whose focuses include election law. “Clinton has and must continue to make the case that she is the only viable candidate in the race who has and will address those concerns.”
Clinton has tried. During a debate in February hosted by MSNBC, she told Sanders that she was “thrilled at the numbers of people, and particularly young people, who are coming to support your campaign” and that she hoped to earn their support.
“They may not support me now, but I support them and we'll work together,” she said.
However, those supporters bristled last month when Clinton was overheard saying she was “sick” of the Sanders camp lying about her record on fossil fuel, then said she felt “sorry sometimes for young people who believe this” and suggested they “don’t do their own research.”
Caleb Weaver, a College Students for Bernie member at Georgetown University, said Monday that the Sanders supporters with whom he works suspect Clinton is truly opposed to the policies they support.
“We have seen Bill Clinton mocking us with the claim that we want to ‘shoot every third person on Wall Street.’ And we have seen Hillary herself insisting that … a $15 minimum wage is too high,” he said. “If this perception goes unchallenged, (Clinton) will struggle to pick up Sanders supporters who genuinely believe in these proposals.”
Weaver said Clinton and her surrogates also need to immediate abandon the line of attack that support for Sanders is “a manifestation of ‘white privilege’ or ‘male privilege.’ ”
“In my experience, nothing turns people off from Secretary Clinton faster than the feeling that they are being accused of racism and/or sexism merely for supporting Bernie. It's deeply insulting and not at all an effective way to reach out to people already hesitant to support Secretary Clinton,” he said.