Sanders and Clinton back in L.A.: A tale of two audiences


The enthusiasm among Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ supporters appears able to weather any political storm.

The self-described socialist senator from Vermont brought his campaign to Los Angeles on March 23 following wins Tuesday in Idaho and Utah and a loss in Arizona. Sanders was greeted by thousands of supporters at the Wiltern Theatre in Koreatown, most of them young, who had lined up for hours, covering more than five blocks of sidewalk, hoping for tickets to hear him speak.

“We have a lot of momentum, and a lot of people who have been wanting this for a long time,” said Cristina Donastorg, a 25-year-old aerospace engineer standing near the front of the line. She had been waiting for nearly three hours. Donastorg said that if Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, she would vote for her rather than either Republican frontrunner Donald Trump or his main challenger, Sen. Ted Cruz, but would also be open to considering Ohio Gov. John Kasich, depending on how debates went.

Next to Donastorg was Aaron Reveles, 21, a UC Santa Barbara student. Reveles said he would vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party if Sanders loses, but said he still likes Sanders’ chances. “I feel like its gonna be neck-to-neck until the end,” Reveles said, raising his voice over the din of honking car horns of passing drivers expressing their support for Sanders.

The rally came a day after Sanders gained 43 delegates in Idaho and Utah and Clinton gained 44 in Arizona, pushing her count to 1,223 with 2,383 needed for the nomination. Sanders currently has 920 delegates, but the gap between him and Clinton is likely far larger than 303. There are also 712 superdelegates—unpledged Democratic party leaders—of whom 467 have declared support for Clinton, while only 26 have declared support for Sanders, which means Clinton may currently only be 693 delegates away from securing the nomination.

The day after Sanders’ rally, Clinton was in L.A. for multiple public appearances and fundraisers. She started with a roundtable discussion on homeland security at USC, and then spoke at a $2,700 per-person fundraiser in Santa Monica, taped an appearance on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and spoke at the Avalon Hollywood at an evening event alongside Estelle, Ben Harper and Russell Simmons.

At the USC roundtable, Clinton was joined by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti; the former Secretary of State addressed urban counter terrorism efforts and the importance of engaging Muslims in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in the wake of the group’s recent bombings in Brussels that killed 31 people and wounded 300. Joining Clinton and Garcetti were Jim Featherstone, former general manager of L.A.’s Emergency Management Department and now general manager of the National Homeland Security Association; Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council; Joumana Silvan-Saba, a senior policy analyst for L.A.’s Human Relations Commission; and Brie Loskota, executive director for USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture.

“To defeat this transnational threat, we need to reinforce the alliances that have been core pillars of American power for decades,” Clinton said, likely referring to America’s anti-ISIS Arab allies, a note she mentioned in her counter terrorism speech Tuesday in Stanford. She also implicitly attacked Trump and Cruz, both of whom called for more vigorous law enforcement and national security monitoring of Muslim neighborhoods in the U.S. “We need to rely on what actually works, not bluster that alienates our partners and doesn't make us any safer.”

The difference in Sanders’ and Clinton’s appeal among young Americans was evident at the two candidates’ L.A. appearances. At USC, approximately 100 students gathered outside the Ronald Tutor Campus Center to try to see Clinton as she left. And the event itself, which was limited to press and a handful of invited guests was formal, calm and largely uneventful.

The gathering for Sanders outside The Wiltern had the feel of a rally well before the actual rally even began, with vendors selling Bernie Sanders shirts, hats and pins; two women were arrested for disorderly conduct for walking around topless.

The rally also attracted some who were simply curious to hear Sanders in person. A man named Joseph, who did not want to give his last name in case his new employer isn’t a Sanders supporter, said he identifies as libertarian and had supported Republican presidential contender Rand Paul. Joseph said he graduated from Hillsdale College in Michigan, school with mostly conservative students.

“At this point, I’m kind of undecided, because I’m not warming up to Trump very much, even though I’ve voted mostly Republican in the past,” Joseph said. “I’ve heard some Bernie things, but better to get it live.”

At the back of the line, with little hope of being admitted inside, Amy Phan, 30, said she was “just here for the camaraderie.” She said that earlier in the day she had been thinking about who she’d vote for if Sanders is not the nominee, as appears increasingly likely.

“I was thinking whether or not I would even wanna vote at that point, even if it were her [Clinton] and Trump,” Phan said. “I don’t wanna see Trump, obviously, but it would be so sad that I would have to give up my vote to her.”

Behind her, Carlyn Blount, also 30, was clutching her purse and a copy of George Orwell’s anti-communist dystopian novel, “Animal Farm,” which she said she was looking forward to reading for the first time.

“I’m still trying to keep optimistic. It’s still possible,” Blount said about Sanders’ chances, adding that she would vote for Clinton if she’s the nominee. “I don’t think she’s as sincere, but she’s so much less evil than Trump.”

+