Millennial voters largely immune to Clinton fever
Millennial voters largely shrugged off Hillary Clinton’s feat of becoming the first woman to claim enough delegates for a major-party presidential nomination and continued to stand by far-left rival Sen. Bernard Sanders — underscoring the challenges she confronts to unify the Democratic Party.
The former secretary of state must secure more than begrudging support from the young Americans who have flocked to Mr. Sanders if she hopes to win in November. She needs the enthusiasm they injected into Mr. Sanders’ political revolution in order to match the grass-roots verve propelling the candidacy of her presumptive Republican rival, Donald Trump.
But her big primary wins last week and victory speech after locking up the delegate tally fell flat with many Sanders fans, including women, on college campuses across the country.
Somehow, breaking the glass ceiling didn’t pack the same punch as when Barack Obama broke the race barrier in 2008. The contrast had to be irksome for Mrs. Clinton, who built her campaign on her appeal to women.
Allison Travers, a 22-year-old student at Queens College in New York, said she was sticking with Mr. Sanders despite the daunting odds and Mrs. Clinton’s delegate lead.
“He still has a lot of potential as a candidate,” she told The Washington Times. “I’m happy for Hillary as the first woman to clinch the nomination for either party, but I think they could have chosen a better candidate.”
Ms. Travers typifies the skeptical young voter whom Mrs. Clinton must win over.
A lot of young women “see women in leadership positions, and they don’t necessarily see this as that historic,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “Maybe they will later on. Maybe they will when they get older and look back on it. I don’t know.”
She said millennials grew up seeing their mothers working outside the home, watching strong female characters on TV and observing women with high-level positions in government and corporate America. They don’t perceive how many other countries have elected female heads of state or that women account for just 25 percent of the members of Congress.
“They assume a woman will be elected in their lifetime,” she said. “They didn’t necessarily think that [Mrs. Clinton] had to be the woman, and so I think the question will come as the general election comes of which of the two candidates that are left, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, speaks more to the issues that they care about. That’s when we’ll see where they land.”
She predicted that most would land in Mrs. Clinton’s camp, but mostly because of their dislike of Mr. Trump and not their affection for the Democratic candidate.
That’s a major reason why party insiders are convinced young voters, who were a major force behind Mr. Obama’s two White House wins, will eventually move to Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Obama won 66 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 in 2008 and captured 60 percent of the same group in his 2012 re-election win.
Democratic leaders also are eager for Mr. Sanders to end his run and usher his supporters into Mrs. Clinton’s camp.
“They are waiting for direction from him,” said Clinton supporter Mannie Rodriguez, a Democratic National Committee member from Colorado. “He should drop out for the sake of the party.”
The sentiment grew stronger when Mr. Trump appealed to disaffected Sanders voters in his own speech last Tuesday night to consider supporting him in the general election. “We welcome you with open arms,” Mr. Trump said.
Clinton supporters stressed that when she lost a brutal primary fight to Mr. Obama in 2008, she endorsed her former rival and rallied her troops behind him.
“These things don’t happen overnight,” said Democratic strategist Craig Varoga. “But I’m 100 percent sure that in the final analysis, Sanders will do what is right for the country in terms of supporting her and opposing Trump. I think that many of his followers will find that quite persuasive.” But some millennials remain ambivalent. Abby Cullen, a 23-year-old professional from Oklahoma, said he and his sister were ready to leave the Democratic Party given the way their candidate was treated in the nominating process.
“We feel like the party has failed us by the mind-boggling amount of bias that has occurred,” he said. “So, no, I will not be supporting the Democratic Party after this election unless something drastically changes.”
Still, Mr. Cullen said, he would probably end up voting for Mrs. Clinton in November to block Mr. Trump from the White House.
Mrs. Clinton has campaigned on many of the same themes as Mr. Sanders, including income inequality, collage affordability and Wall Street reform, although she never fully embraced all of the far-left policies of the senator from Vermont, a self-described democratic socialist.
Mr. Sanders has vowed to press on through the final primary contest in the District of Columbia this week and on to the Democratic National Convention in July in Philadelphia. But he markedly toned down his rhetoric after losing a hard-fought primary in California.
Mr. Sanders was to meet with Mr. Obama at the White House, where the president is expected to prod him to begin mending the party and helping fortify Mrs. Clinton for a general election battle.
“I think the tone of his remarks [Tuesday] night were such that we have confidence that in due time we will be able to unite this party and focus on the general election,” Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said on MSNBC. “There is a mutual recognition on the party of Sen. Sanders and Secretary Clinton that no matter what happens, we have to work together to make sure Donald Trump does not ever occupy the White House.”
Emma Patton and Erica Brosnan contributed to this report.