A Delegation Divided? Some N.H. Sanders Supporters Plan to Still Back Bernie at DNC

Jul 24, 2016

As the only New Hampshire superdelegate to support Sen. Bernie Sanders, state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark is nonetheless ready to unite around the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton, heading into the general election.

Bringing the rest of the delegation on board, she says, might be more difficult.

“It will be a very challenging convention because of the Bernie supporters who still wish he were the presidential nominee,” says Fuller Clark, who also serves as the vice chair of the state party. “But I would hope we could convince them that what’s important is the commitment to the goals and objectives of the platform moving forward, and that everyone will be working hard to hold the Clinton administration to the tenets of that platform.”

Indeed, there will be plenty of conversations in the days ahead about how, exactly, the state’s Sanders delegates will offer up their support for Clinton.

Traditionally, party officials say, the New Hampshire delegation has united around the nominee. In 2008, for example, Clinton delegates ultimately came around and voted for Barack Obama at the convention. This time around, that same unanimity is looking unlikely.

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley, who has in the past touted the delegation’s show of unity, says he’s less concerned about the outcome at the convention and more concerned about the general election.

“If people feel passionately about casting their vote, that’s their right. That’s why in our rules, no delegate can be forced to vote against their personal preference and personal belief,” Buckley says. “That’s totally up to them. The important thing is winning in November.”

State Rep. Renny Cushing, one of three whips for New Hampshire’s Sanders delegates, says a lot remained up in the air ahead of the convention. The delegates are slated to caucus once they’re in Philadelphia, and Sanders is expected to meet with the group Monday, a few hours before he addresses the convention at large.

On a conference call shortly after Sanders endorsed Clinton,  Cushing said the senator signaled plans to put his name into the nomination process at the convention, “and to have every delegate who has pledged their name to him cast their ballots to kind of reflect and show the depth of the support the senator has garnered across the country throughout the primary campaign.”

“It is my intent to respect and follow the suggestions and guidelines that will be given to us by Sen. Sanders,” Cushing says.

Emily Jacobs (seen here carrying Sanders signs and wearing a "Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Bernie" T-shirt to the New Hampshire Democratic Party convention in June) plans to stick by the senator at the DNC.
Credit Casey McDermott, NHPR

At least a handful of New Hampshire delegates plan to stick with Sanders no matter what, even if the senator “releases” the delegates who were originally bound to support him.

Emily Jacobs, chair of the Coos County Democrats, says she feels obligated to represent both the outcome of the vote in the New Hampshire primary – where Sanders beat Clinton by 22 points – and the will of the people who elected her as a Sanders delegate. 

“I feel like I have that responsibility to carry that message to the DNC,” says Jacobs. “That is why I’ve been voted in. I will continue to be faithful to that, and I will support Sen. Sanders all the way.”

For her part, Fuller Clark says she’s still wrestling with how to handle her votes at the convention, too. Ideally, she’d like to find a way to show support for Sanders and his agenda, while showing solidarity with Clinton as the party looks toward November.

“I just want to make sure in the end that we’re unified and we understand how important it is that unification, to make sure that we don’t allow Trump to become the next president,” Fuller Clark says. “That should be, in my mind, our overarching goal.”

While the New Hampshire Democratic delegation is in Philadelphia, there will be plenty of pushes for party unity back home.

The Clinton team is planning a series of events across the state this week to bring people together around her campaign – office openings, convention watch parties and organizing events with members of Organizing for Action (which grew out of the “Obama for America” campaign).

The Clinton campaign also plans to roll out a series of testimonials from New Hampshire Sanders supporters about their plans to support Clinton, as well as “an online story bank” where other Sanders backers can weigh in.