Before he stepped up to the microphone, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vt., could tell there would be skeptics in the audience. He was on board with electing Hillary Clinton. Rights and Democracy, the progressive grass-roots group that had booked a small town’s park for a Labor Day rally, was not.
“Is she indicted yet?” yelled one spectator, referring to Clinton. Sanders didn’t visibly react. Elizabeth Ropp, an acupuncturist who had organized early for Sanders, introduced him by criticizing an unnamed “PR firm in a gentrified neighborhood of Brooklyn” and saying the country needed “a progressive third party.” Sanders applauded, very softly.
On his first campaign swing since the launch of his political group, Our Revolution, Sanders tackled his most immediate and inevitable task: talking the progressives who had backed him into backing Clinton. Never expected to be easy, it has become as challenging, in its own way, as the “revolution” Sanders waged through the primaries. Nearly two months after Sanders endorsed Clinton, perhaps 10 percent of his supporters say they’ll reject Clinton, vote for a third-party candidate or cast a chaos-making vote for Donald Trump.
That worries Democrats, who despite Clinton’s strength in the horse race, do not see many votes to spare. In an average of polls collected by RealClearPolitics, Clinton leads Trump by 3.3 points in a two-way race, but leads by just 2.4 points in the race most voters will encounter on the ballot: Clinton, Trump, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein. But in every poll that asks, by a much wider margin, voters believe that Clinton will defeat Trump in November.
That has combined with the major party nominees’ historically high negative numbers to produce steady, unusually high numbers for third-party candidates. Johnson, who is running more as a pragmatist than a dogmatic Libertarian, is pulling equally from Trump and Clinton – a departure for a Libertarian candidate. In a new Washington Post-SurveyMonkey poll of all 50 states, Stein polls best – at 10 percent – in Sanders’s Vermont. And both candidates have argued that votes for them will spoil an election that deserves to be spoiled.
On Monday morning, before Sanders himself addressed a Labor Day breakfast in Manchester, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., spoke at length about the Nader experience.
“When Al Gore was running against George W. Bush, people said, ‘Ah, there’s no difference between them,’ so people stayed home,” Shaheen said. “Some voted for Ralph Nader. Now, I hear people saying, ‘Oh, I may vote for Gary Johnson.’ Or ‘I might vote for Stein.’ What happened in 2000 is that we got George W. Bush. We got the war in Iraq. We got the biggest tax cuts for high earners in our history. If you think there’s no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, think about 2000.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · David Weigel