To mark Hillary Clinton’s victory for the Democratic nomination, several dozen grassroots supporters of Clinton gathered to celebrate at a Main Street restaurant Tuesday evening, with many eyeing the general election campaign to come.
In the Michigan presidential primary in March, Ann Arbor voters favored Clinton’s challenger, Senator Bernie Sanders (I–VT) by 15,409 to 12,014 votes — due in part to strong grassroots drives for voter turnout from University of Michigan students — and Sanders narrowly carried the state in an upset victory.
Nonetheless, the Associated Press declared Monday that Clinton had won enough delegates to secure the nomination, and her victory was further cemented by winning four of the six primary contests held Tuesday.
Michigan — which is typically considered a Democratic state in presidential elections — has come into focus as a state in which presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump can build on unconventional support from blue collar white voters.
Suzanne Perkins, a city resident and lead grassroots organizer for Clinton in Ann Arbor, expressed confidence, based on her experience canvassing Ann Arbor voters, that Democrats in Michigan would be able to rally behind Clinton in November even though Sanders won the state in the primary.
“Even when we met Bernie people, people said to us, ‘I’m going to vote for Bernie, but please come back in November,’” Perkins said. “People were just generous and sweet and very nice, so I don’t think we’re going to have any problem unifying the party in Ann Arbor. Nobody’s angry.”
Perkins also said she is sympathetic to many Sanders supporters — particularly students — but reaffirmed that she believes Clinton to be the strongest candidate in the general election.
“I voted for Jesse Jackson in my first election, and I knew he wasn’t going to win, but I liked what he was saying, and ultimately I knew what he was saying would never pass Congress,” Perkins said, referring to the two-time Democratic candidate for president. “I understand when you’re voting for the first time you feel passionate about a particular person.”
Ann Arbor resident Jason Morgan — another grassroots Clinton organizer — echoed these points. Morgan worked for the Clinton presidential campaign in 2008 and was a delegate for Clinton in that year’s Democratic National Convention. He said his experience working for a losing primary campaign makes him empathetic with present-day Sanders supporters.
“I’m very confident that, in the fall, when any rational person looks at the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the choice will be very clear,” Morgan said. “With that said, the Clinton campaign has to do a good job of embracing Sanders’ supporters and incorporating a lot of the issues that they were passionate about.”
Both Morgan and Perkins said they intend to continue to organize for Clinton and will be coordinating with professional staff from the Clinton campaign once they arrive in the state. Perkins also acknowledged that Trump’s populist rhetoric could make Michigan more competitive than in past presidential elections.
“I do think Trump speaks to a ‘we’ve been battered economically for so long’ and a ‘god damn it, that’s someone’s fault’ attitude,” Perkins said. “He can speak the sound bites of why Michigan is struggling financially, but it’s harder for (Clinton) because it’s not a soundbite.”
Despite the optimism of some local Clinton supporters for uniting the party by November, there is evidence of continued resistance from grassroots supporters of Sanders, particularly among the University community.
Rising LSA junior Nicholas Kolenda, president of the Ann Arbor chapter of Students for Sanders, estimated 40 percent of local Sanders supporters are ready to vote for Clinton in November, 40 percent are undecided and 20 percent have left the Democratic Party. Kolenda also said he and many of his fellow Sanders supporters are disappointed by the result of the primaries but have accepted Clinton as the nominee.
While he is not sure if he will organize for Clinton’s campaign in November, Kolenda said he will continue advocating for local elections and political causes, such as the upcoming contract negotiations for the University’s Graduate Student Union, which aims to ensure fair pay and benefits for graduate student instructors. He added that, while he and his peers have reservations about Clinton, they are firmly opposed to the prospect of a Trump presidency.
“My views on Clinton are lukewarm at best, so it’d be hard to take hours out of the day to do much for that campaign,” Kolenda said in an email interview. “However, myself, and others, will be trying my hardest to keep Trump out of office, and if the Students for Hillary or Campus Democrats groups need help to keep Michigan out of Trump’s hands, I’d be willing to help out.”
A few minutes after 9 p.m., the CNN broadcast on the bar’s flat-screen televisions declared Clinton the winner of the New Jersey primary, drawing cheers and applause from attendees.
Three minutes later, Trump appeared on the same screens. The commotion among the Clinton supporters dulled as they turned to the televisions. As he read from his teleprompter, Trump’s speech gradually drew laughs, eye-rolls, head-shakes — and, when the Republican nominee called for Sanders’ supporters to join him — boos.