In Vermont, Clinton Supporters Quiet About Their Candidate

Feb 18, 2016

It doesn't take long to see the support for Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign here in Vermont. We've all seen the lawn signs, the tee shirts, the bumper stickers, there’s even Bernie 2016 graffiti. 

But finding support for fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton in Vermont seems a bit more difficult. Still, the former Secretary of State's campaign is not giving up on Sanders' home turf.

Seven Days Reporter Terri Hallenbeck has covered the Clinton campaign's pitch to Vermonters and she joined VPR to discuss the Clinton campaign’s approach. 

Conventional wisdom would tell us Sanders is really, really popular in his home state. What do the numbers say about Democrats who support Sanders vs. Clinton here?

“I think there was some national polling [released] yesterday that showed Sanders might have seventy-six percent support in his home state, which sounds right.

“I think increasingly during the campaign Clinton supporters have felt drowned out.”

Some Clinton supporters in Vermont you talk to were a little sheepish to come “out of the closet” as one woman put it. Does that represent a real obstacle to building any sort of grassroots Clinton campaign here?

“Especially with social media, the conversation gets so vehement that [this one woman] just felt like ‘Wow. You know all my friends are all over me for doing this.’ A lot of others I talk to you know just felt a little more secure about their feelings about Hillary Clinton.

“I think there's a little bit of a politeness thing that goes on, of you don't bring a full game to someone's home state. But it's also just strategically; it doesn't make sense to spend a lot of money in Vermont. There are not a lot of delegates at stake and to try and build a ground game and then send people door-to-door to say, ‘Will you vote for Hillary Clinton?’ in Bernie Sanders backyard is a tough thing to do.”

We've heard a lot about the so-called 'Bernie Bro' phenomenon, stories of Sanders supporters attacking Clinton supporters online. Did the Vermont Clinton supporters you talked to worry about a backlash?

“Yeah that's the thing that this woman I was talking to was really referencing, [push back] especially online. You just feel like you get shot down in a hurry and in a nasty way.”

Now, Clinton is putting some resources in Vermont ahead of the March 1 primary. There are several campaign events set for this weekend, one with former Governor Madeleine Kunin. How seriously is Clinton's campaign taking Vermont?

“Well I think what they want to do is make sure that they don't cede the whole state to Sanders. She can win some delegates if [she] win fifteen percent or more of the vote… So she can walk away saying you know, he doesn't even have a clinch on his own state. She definitely will want to send that message.

“As we have seen there are high-level Vermont Democratic politicians who have supported Hillary Clinton, so there's a base to build on there: Madeleine Kunin, Patrick Leahy, Governor Shumlin all Clinton supporters, former Governor Howard Dean. So there is a base to build on. How much they'll actually go out and do the door-to-door canvassing, I don't know about that.”

Let's get into the weeds of party politics for just one question and talk about superdelegates. These are the party bosses who can vote however they want at the Democratic nominating convention. How does the support line up there?

“Well, we think we have ten. It's amazing how complicated this stuff is. But the national Democratic National Committee has to approve that still and that doesn't happen till July.

“They're actually asking to add Bernie Sanders to the roster this year for the first time because he wasn't a Democrat before. So he's a superdelegate and [Secretary of State] Jim Condos is a superdelegate because he's in the National Secretary of State's Association. And that would be a first time thing so those numbers are really hard to nail down.

“So we have ten superdelegates at stake, we think, four of them have said they're for Clinton. And then there are two Sanders and four unknowns [who] haven't quite committed yet.”