PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – After 14 months of policy clashes and moments of mutual disdain, Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday, clearing away the last major obstacle to a united Democratic front heading into the party’s convention this month and the general election this fall.
Entering the high school gymnasium together and waving and shaking hands along the rope line and from the stage, Clinton and Sanders stood before a giant American flag image flanked by Clinton’s motto, “Stronger Together.” They appeared to chat briefly before Sanders spoke, and he patted her on the back – yet no hug – before Sanders stepped forward to cheers of “Unity!”
“Secretary Clinton has won the Democratic nominating process,” Sanders said, as cheers erupted and Clinton broke into a wide smile. “And I congratulate her for that. She will be the Democratic nominee for president, and I intend to do everything I can to make certain that she will be the next president of the United States.”
“I have come here to make it as clear as possible why I am endorsing Hillary Clinton and why she must become our next president.”
Sanders, the fiercely independent senator from Vermont, who portrayed Clinton as a captive of big-money interests during their race, was in a bittersweet but resolute mood, according to Sanders advisers, as he took the stage with her at Portsmouth High School. He was back in a state that once filled his campaign with hope, after he crushed Clinton by 22 percentage points in the February primary, and he came around grudgingly to supporting her, the advisers said. But he was also determined to make a strong case against Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, and to champion Clinton as the only chance to defeat him.
Whether Clinton can also win over the 12 million Sanders voters will be one of her biggest challenges at the convention July 25-28 in Philadelphia and in the weeks ahead. About 85 percent of Democrats who backed Sanders in the primary contests said they planned to vote for her in the general election, according to a Pew poll released last week. Yet she has struggled to appeal to the independents and liberals who rallied behind the senator’s call for a “political revolution” to topple establishment politicians, Clinton included.
She is counting on Sanders to help bring his supporters into her camp, and Sanders advisers said he would try. In a text message Tuesday before this campaign event, Michael Briggs, a spokesman for Sanders, said the senator and his wife, Jane, feel as if their voters should feel encouraged.
“They feel like the millions of people who were the heart and soul of the campaign have a lot to be proud about,” Briggs wrote as he drove from Vermont with Bernie Sanders and Jane Sanders to the New Hampshire event.
One person close to Sanders said the senator and his wife were “putting on a good face” Tuesday but were disappointed that his campaign did not succeed after he gave it so much of his energy and rallied millions of people around his ideas. The person, a longtime top political adviser to Sanders who spoke on condition of anonymity to share the private views of the couple, also said the senator was resolved to keep his word that he would endorse the Democratic nominee and that he has been told by some high-ranking Democrats that he could become chairman of the committee that will work on trying to carry out a proposed $15 federal minimum wage.
On the campaign trail, Clinton has been focused on winning over independents and Republican-leaning women who are turned off by Trump, exuding confidence that the young voters and liberals who backed Sanders would get in line and support her when faced with the prospect of a Trump presidency instead.
But behind the scenes, her senior campaign aides have tried to build bridges to a wing of the party skeptical of Clinton and the brand of centrist politics her husband advanced. Since she clinched the number of delegates needed to secure her party’s nomination on June 7, the campaign has reached out to Sanders’ supporters, dispatching campaign manager Robby Mook, director of states and political engagement, Marlon Marshall, and top policy adviser Jake Sullivan, to states where Sanders defeated Clinton, including New Hampshire, Wyoming, Vermont and Washington state.
For many Sanders supporters, voting for Clinton is still hard to fathom: Recent polls show that only a small fraction of them would support her enthusiastically. At the campaign event here, as well as around the country, there was a relatively lukewarm reception for Clinton among the legions of liberals who embraced Sanders’ attacks on her ties to Wall Street and previous support for global trade deals.
Ethan Winnett, 31, of Waukegan, Illinois, said Sanders might be being “duped” or “threatened” by Clinton and vowed never to vote for her even if she’s back by the senator. The computer engineer believes Clinton is “more crooked than Trump” and said he felt “betrayed” by Sanders’ endorsement.
Winnett added that he also feels betrayed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and President Barack Obama for their support of Clinton. In his frustration with the race, he has already turned to working for the Green Party and this summer helped collect signatures to get the party’s presidential nominee, Jill Stein, on the ballot in Illinois.
However, Winnie Wong, co-founder of People For Bernie, said the group will now be focusing efforts on explaining to people the damage a Trump presidency could do. The group, though, will not be endorsing Clinton, she said.
“This is what I expected to happen,” Wong said of Sanders’ endorsement. “I will do what I can to stop Trump. We cannot afford a Donald Trump presidency, and I think most people from social movements understand that.”