Washington • Sen. Bernie Sanders’ withdrawal from the presidential race on Wednesday hit hard with his fans in Utah, a state where Democrats have now voted twice to pick him as their White House nominee only to see him come up short.
Sanders' supporters, though, say they are ready to rally around former Vice President Joe Biden as the Democratic pick to take out President Donald Trump and that the progressive ideas Sanders touted will remain.
“I mean, of course I'm disappointed,” said Daisy Thomas, a former chairwoman of the Utah Democratic Party and a Sanders backer. “But I mean, there's no way that the movement that he has inspired and has been leading for the past few years is going to die off.”
“So while we are winning the ideological battle, and while we are winning the support of young people and working people throughout the country, I have concluded that this battle for the Democratic nomination will not be successful,” Sanders, a Vermont independent, said in a letter to supporters congratulating Biden, “a very decent man, on his victory.”
Biden holds an insurmountable lead in delegates for the Democratic nod and Sanders was the only remaining opponent after the withdrawal of other party contenders.
His withdrawal marks the second time he’s had to give up his White House hopes. Sanders came in second in 2016 to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who lost to Trump in the general election.
In that presidential election, Sanders supporters — who became more upset about his loss after learning through emails stolen by Russian hackers that the Democratic National Committee was secretly aiding Clinton’s campaign — protested at the party’s national convention and tried to force a contested election for the nomination.
It seems less likely that will happen this time around.
Thomas, who was a delegate for Sanders in 2016, said that while the Vermont senator has suspended his campaign, he remains on the ballot for several primary contests and can still gain support that will matter during the Democratic National Convention, now slated for August, to help shape the party’s platform.
“Affecting the platform for the Democratic Party is incredibly important,” Thomas said. “Making sure that he has enough progressives on the rules and the platform committees matters. And so, you know, the race continues as far as making sure people still have a voice on issues.”
Thomas will now support Biden because, “we have to get this dangerous and reckless guy out of office,” she said, referring to Trump.
That's a sentiment that Sanders supporters across Utah felt as well even if they hate to see their candidate drop out.
“To be honest, it’s an unfortunate time for his message to go off the table,” said Jeff Bell, who runs “The Left Show” podcast. “I think we’re seeing with the pandemic that a lot of what they were calling the radical, socialist, populist agenda that [Sanders] had actually turns out to be things that really would have been quite handy to have in place right now.”
But the most important thing, Bell added, is to oust Trump.
“Most folks in the party are going to stand behind Biden and they're going to rally around him,” he said. “You know, he's our guy now.”
Jeff Merchant, the chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, said there may be disappointment in the more progressive ranks about Sanders' withdrawal but that when one compares Biden to Trump, they'll realize they have only one choice.
“At this point there are a lot of people who are obviously very disappointed about Bernie Sanders dropping out and that is totally understandable,” Merchant said. “But we have a much bigger problem that we face in this country, and that's Donald Trump. So I think that it's time for us as Democrats, as progressives, to come together and to start looking forward to defeating Donald Trump in November.”
Biden is seen as a more centrist candidate than Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who also withdrew her candidacy, but Utah Democrats say he’s still far more progressive than the status quo.
“I am sad to see, you know, some of our more progressive candidates ending their candidacy,” said Salt Lake County Councilwoman Shireen Ghorbani. “I also know that what’s on the ballot in 2020 is a candidate who is going to work to expand access to health care and one who’s going to roll it back. … One who is going to work to protect workers and protect immigrants and one who is not.
“I understand that this is difficult, especially for many who've been in the progressive movement and in the progressive fight to see our country move a little faster on some of these issues,” Ghorbani added. “I also know that what we are facing right now is a fundamental question about who we are as Americans. And I believe that we still have a stark difference between these two candidates about the direction that this country is headed around decency, leadership and where we should really be as a nation.”
Scott Howell, a former state senator who is leading Biden’s effort in Utah, said Trump’s efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, his lack of action to prepare for the coronavirus outbreak and many of his other efforts while in office will help push the Democratic Party to unite behind their nominee.
“I just think that here’s an opportunity for us to show the country and show the state that we see a leader that can really take us in a different direction,” Howell said.
While Utah Democratic voters tend to be more progressive than their national counterparts — as shown by their preference for Sanders over the more establishment candidate in the last two presidential primaries — the state as a whole is a conservative bastion. No Democratic presidential hopeful has won the state since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.