The Democratic convention is supposed to be all about Hillary Clinton, but Bernie Sanders is the man of the moment.
Democrats will look to him Monday night to calm the uproar that exploded inside the party over the past 48 hours as a result of some controversial emails about Sanders from party officials.
Angry supporters of the independent senator from Vermont, who ran for president as a Democrat, took to the streets of Philadelphia Sunday – the result of their longstanding frustration over their belief that the party leadership had favored Clinton and tried to undermine Sanders.
The emails, released by WikiLeaks, proved them right.
“It just confirmed what we have been saying for months: The Democratic Party had its thumbs on the scale for Clinton,” Michael Briggs, the Sanders campaign communications director, said in an interview Sunday.
The fallout was immediate: party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz, a congresswoman from Florida whose resignation Sanders had called for months ago, said she would step down at the end of the week.
Hillary cannot win without voters under 30, it's as simple as that. And Bernie is spectacularly strong with voters under 30.
Democratic strategist Paul Begala
It was a stunning development on the eve of the party’s presidential convention when the message was hoped to be all about party unity between the Clinton and Sanders camps, which engaged in a hard-fought and at times bitter rivalry.
“I don't think it's enough,” said Beth Wheeler, 42, a Sanders supporter from Garnet Valley, Pa., who said she would not support Clinton simply to defeat Republican nominee Donald Trump. “But I think it's a start.”
Valdez Bravo, a 39-year-old Sanders supporter from Oregon, said Democrats need to pay more attention to its “progressive wing.”
“I want to keep the political revolution moving forward past 2016,” he said. “There are a lot of us and we are not being listened to. We feel that the Democratic Party needs to be start working to be a party of the people, for the people, by the people.”
The turmoil threatened to make the chaos which reigned at last week’s Republican Party gathering in Cleveland pale by comparison. It raised the stakes for Sanders’ speech.
“He needs to pull out all the stops for her,” Terry Madonna, director of Pennsylvania’s Franklin & Marshall College Poll, said of Sanders. “No middle ground.”
Sanders had already pledged to back Clinton and made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to emphasize his support. Sanders said keeping Trump out of the White House was paramount.
“I am going to do everything I can to defeat him, to elect Hillary Clinton, and to keep focusing, keep focusing, on the real issues facing the American people,” he told CNN.
In exchange, he has won several victories, including platforms planks on trade, the minimum wage and education, as well as gains on rules about the selection of super delegates.
“We have lot of people who supported him who have reason to be proud,” Briggs said.
He’ll be in position to give his supporters a clear direction to go with Hillary Clinton. It’s an opportunity in a very direct and unfiltered way.
Democratic pollster Mark Mellman
Clinton is counting on Sanders’ full-throated support Monday night to be convincing enough to persuade even his most ardent – and now really angry ‑ supporters to get behind her.
“He has a legion of really committed activists,” said John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. “Many of them are younger and I’m sure he will be mindful of not disappointing them. He would not want them to feel sold out.”
He attracted what she lacked: a coalition of young voters, including all-important millennials, as well as many first-time voters; disaffected Democrats; independents; and others who enlisted in the 74-year-old’s campaign, and his self-styled socialist message.
But one speech might not be enough. A poll this month by Yik Yak, a social network site, found that half of millennials backing Sanders intend to vote for third party candidate; 39 percent will back Clinton. In June, when Sanders was still in the race, an MTV poll found that a majority of millennials who support him would back Clinton if he dropped out.
“Hillary cannot win without voters under 30, it’s as simple as that,” said Democratic strategist Paul Begala, a longtime Clinton ally. “And Bernie is spectacularly strong with voters under 30.”
Despite losing the contest to Clinton, “He got her talking much about economic inequality and about public investment and a more robust recovery,” said Roger Hickey, a Sanders volunteer and director of the Campaign for America’s Future, a liberal advocacy group. “He had a major effect in the debate and…now the question is, can we build the political will to actually get her to lead and win back the Congress.”
Trump, meanwhile, talks about appealing to Sanders’ voters. Other Republicans see his influence on Clinton as a possible soft spot in the Democratic armor.
“It looks like he got a lot what he wanted in the party platform,” said Greg Mueller, a conservative Republican strategist. “It seems to me he pushed the party much further to the left. We’ll see if that’s hard for Mrs. Clinton to handle.”
An average of polls taken through the end of the Republican convention show Clinton with a two-point edge over the New York billionaire, according to the political website, Real Clear Politics.
Nothing is assured. Moreover, her popularity, like Trump’s, is in the cellar. Her disapproval rating is about 56 percent, according to Real Clear Politics. Trump’s is worse, but not by much: 59 percent.
In addition, the FBI recently slammed the former secretary of state for being too cavalier with her State Department emails, though she dodged her supporters’ biggest fear, a criminal indictment. And Sanders, his endorsement notwithstanding, was successful in painting her as a creature of the establishment, not the most coveted brand in a season of political rebellion.
William Douglas of the McClatchy Washington bureau, and Danielle Prieur and Jee-Eun Lee of the Northwestern University Medill News Service contributed.