How Iowa Sanders Supporters Are Slowly Moving To Clinton

By Pat Rynard

October 6, 2016

“That’s Clinton’s position, that’s my position, that’s not Donald Trump’s position.”

Bernie Sanders repeated that line often during his visit to Drake University’s campus yesterday in an effort to win back his disaffected former supporters. He continually implored the crowd of students and activists to support Hillary Clinton, who he insisted supported many of the same progressive policies that fueled his own revolutionary campaign.

“We need to take an objective look at reality,” Sanders said. “Not personality, it is policy. Old fashioned, boring policy, which will impact your lives.”

Sanders listed off issue after issue that he and Clinton line up on, including equal pay, the minimum wage, college affordability, climate change, infrastructure spending, community health centers, prison reform, taxes and clean energy. That’s what voters should focus on, Sanders argued, not the media-driven personalities.


“Secretary Clinton’s unfavorable, Donald Trump’s unfavorable, are very high, that’s just the truth, for whatever reason. I ask people to go beyond personality,” Sanders said. “Look at the issues that impact you. Don’t worry about Trump, don’t worry about Clinton. Worry about yourself. Worry about your families. If you look at the candidates, issue by issue, you will find Secretary Clinton has a progressive agenda, which will improve lives for the middle class.”

Those lines in particular drew cheers and applause from the attendees, many of whom sported old Sanders t-shirts and buttons.

But did it win anyone over?

One of Clinton’s biggest hurdles in Iowa has come from disinterested young voters and former Sanders supporters unwilling to vote for her. The Iowa Sanders delegation to the national convention was one of the rowdiest. The attempt by former Sanders activists to integrate into the Iowa Democratic Party has been a rocky journey at best. Many former Sanders volunteers have gotten involved in down-ballot races, but there’s still an enthusiasm gap among some for the top of the ticket.


Starting Line interviewed many students around campus and activists at the event, and mostly found people slowly warming up to Clinton and willing to vote for her.

“I was really hesitant to move toward Clinton, but around May and June, I realized Sanders didn’t have the votes,” said Branden Bienz, a freshman Drake student who backed Sanders in the primary and is now volunteering for Clinton’s campaign. “I expected Hillary to be the nominee and I had to get behind her to defeat Donald Trump. With Hillary Clinton, she’s going to continue Bernie Sanders’ revolution. Millennials need to get behind Hillary Clinton, because if Donald Trump wins, Bernie Sanders’ revolution is dead. It dies.”

Some had toyed with voting for a third party or even Donald Trump, but eventually thought better of it.

“It was a difficult one,” Joshua Hart, a Drake freshman, said of his decision to move from Sanders to Clinton. “I was battling voting for Trump out of spite, but I came to the conclusion that I shouldn’t do something out of spite, I should vote because her policies are much closer to what I want.“


Many students came to Sanders’ rally still unsure on who they would cast their ballot for. At least two young women who attended together, freshmen Ayana Anderson and Kennedy Mitchum, were won over.

“I have a lot of issues with her track record,” admitted Anderson, who was active in the Black Lives Matter movement in her home state of Minnesota. “A lot of my family is in prison, and she says she wants to fix prison reform, but she’s supported by prisons, private prisons her whole campaign. It’s hard for me, but thinking about it, her policies are more sound than Trump … Sometimes she plays it safe, in the moderate zone, and Bernie’s campaign encouraged her to move more to the left and be more generous on some of her policies.”

“It took a while – coming here, I still wasn’t sure if I was even going to vote,” added Mitchum. “But he was talking about how, personality-wise, they’re both unfavorable, but if you look at ourselves and our needs, Hillary is the way to go.”

Some of the non-student attendees at the event had already gotten to supporting Clinton. A trio of longtime activists who supported Sanders came to see their former candidate, wearing their old Sanders campaign gear.


“I always knew if Bernie didn’t make it, I’d support Hillary. The alternative is just too bad,” said Jan Flora of Ames, who added he appreciated the new progressive platform additions. “It’s a good platform. We’re going to hold her to it.”

“I think we did miss a great opportunity with Sanders. I do believe we do have to turn and support Hillary now,” commented Gina of Cambridge. “I don’t believe in any of the people who are Bernie or Bust people.”

“She’s not Donald Trump and she isn’t crazy,” added their friend Jeff of Des Moines. “She isn’t Bernie, but she has been the target of a decades-long, despicable smear campaign, and for that reason alone I’m on her side.”

Still, not every single person was convinced.

“I came here to see if Bernie could convince me to vote for Hillary and he did not,” said Marcus Lange of Des Moines afterward, who figured he’d likely vote for Jill Stein. “He’s the one who has the progressive agenda, she’s the one controlled by corporations. He didn’t speak from his heart. I’ve seen him twice before, and he spoke with conviction and from his heart then.”

And several students around campus were leaning toward doing a third party vote as well.

“I can’t vote for Hillary, even if Bernie wants me to,” said freshman Giada Morresi. “I think a lot of the things that Bernie said will be continued on through Jill Stein.”

However, both of the third party-leaners said they’d likely vote for mostly Democrats down-ballot, or at least whichever they find to be “progressive.”

Gary Kroeger tries to convince some Jill Stein supporters afterward

Gary Kroeger tries to convince some Jill Stein supporters afterward

The real problem, however, lies with who wasn’t at the Sanders rally. He drew around 800 to an event on Drake’s campus back in the early days of Iowa Caucus campaigning in 2015. Only about 300 showed up on Wednesday. If they can’t even be bothered to walk across campus to see their former hero in person, it’s rather unlikely they’ll take the time to vote.

“I know some people who are just not voting at all because Sanders isn’t the nominee, which is really too bad,” observed Dana Haberkam, a Drake freshman who supported Clinton in the primaries.

At other college campuses around Iowa, that might prove a real problem for Democrats, who typically rack up big vote margins at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University. At Drake University, though, there’s at least still enough interest in politics.

“There’s a lot of passion on campus – the campus basically shut down for the [first presidential] debate,” said Samantha Bayne, a Clinton-supporting freshman. “It was nice to see people actually care about politics.”

The big question remains whether they’ll actually turn out and vote for Clinton or a third party for president. At least from conversations on Drake’s campus the past few days, it does seem like most are moving in the right direction. It certainly isn’t anywhere near the level of support that Barack Obama got among young voters in 2008 and 2012, but it might be getting to just enough of what Clinton needs to win Iowa.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 10/6/16

  • Pat Rynard

    Pat Rynard founded Iowa Starting Line in 2015. He is now Courier Newsroom's National Political Editor, where he oversees political reporters across the country. He still keeps a close eye on Iowa politics, his dog's name is Frank, and football season is his favorite time of year.

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