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Davis

Davis, California

Saturday, September 18, 2021

The Bernie-Clinton Question

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Student groups begin advocating for Democratic candidates.

If you don’t like Hillary Clinton, or were hoping for several Democratic debates that don’t look and feel like a coronation, you were probably disappointed by Wednesday’s news that Joe Biden won’t be running for President.

Maybe Bernie should start looking at the Super PACs.

Biden’s announcement effectively marks the end to what has been a long summer of speculation about a potentially damaging campaign from the Vice President. But at UC Davis, the election has just started to get into gear.

One registered student organization, Davis Students for Bernie Sanders (DSB), is currently  recruiting supporters and gathering resources for what it anticipates to be a competitive primary season. They are growing fast; around 40 students showed up to their first general meeting earlier this month, with about twice as many attending a debate watch party several days later.

Another group on campus, Davis Students for Hillary (DSH), has also been considering their options as they look to organize a larger campus presence. Although currently smaller than DSB, the group’s leadership has been happy with their progress. Dillan Horton, a third-year political science major, explained that his group, despite not holding any outreach events or speeches, has surpassed his expectations.

“Where we’ve come so far is based upon inherent support for the candidate,” Dillan said, referring to the people who have sought out and expressed support for DSH on their own volition.

DSB has made many overtures to the student body and beyond. They have tabled at events like the Involvement Fair and have a volunteer committee dedicated to outreach. They are also affiliated with a statewide drive for Sanders.

Samip Mehta, who is also a third-year political science major working with DSH, acknowledged Sanders’ increasing popularity.

“I would say that he would be capable of doing some damage,” Samip said. But, remaining confident in Hillary’s prospects, he also took issue with her elitist image. “Hillary is definitely more the blue dog, more for the people, by the people. Bernie is, I would say, a little bit more exclusive.”

Samip’s point contrasts with what some Sanders supporters see as his largest asset moving forward: an ability to appeal to a broad cross-section of the electorate. In September, he visited the conservative and Evangelical Liberty University, hoping to add a moral imperative to solving problems like the wealth gap and climate change.

But these efforts don’t seem to actually convince Sanders’ skeptics as much as raise his image among supporters who are already sold. Mobilizing his existing base may not be enough if that base consists mostly of white, college-educated individuals. That’s the kind of exclusivity I think of when I consider Samip’s statement. It’s the kind that threatens his ability to perform well in primary states that aren’t as homogenous as New Hampshire or Iowa, which tend to look more like Sanders’ home state of Vermont.

Expanding his base is a big concern for DSB, who have made it their goal in these early weeks to improve Sanders’ name recognition among students who may not be familiar with him. It’s particularly fitting that their efforts are taking place on a college campus.

Historically, young voters are the worst age demographic in terms of voter turnout. In the 2008 election, young people aged 18 to 29 participated at the highest rates seen in decades. But that was also a year when a poor economy was incredibly motivating in bringing people to the polls. Income inequality, arguably Sanders’ chief issue, does not resonate with voters as much as more tangible economic woes such as job loss. Overcoming the turnout odds will be crucial if Bernie hopes to win the nomination.

Maddie Porter, a fourth-year community regional development major, has been working with DSB to achieve such a goal as the head of the group’s volunteer committee.

“I guess my one worry is that people won’t see him as this really charismatic, good-looking person like Obama was,” Porter said. “Not that Bernie isn’t charismatic, it’s just in a different way.”

But in an election dominated thus far by outsiders, his populist grouchiness has only endeared itself to those dissatisfied with politics as usual. If Obama delivered a message of hope from the mountaintop, Sanders has delivered his from the factory floor. But, as the incredible attendance numbers for his rallies show, his method is no less effective.

But will popular stump speeches amount to a win? Not likely. The question of whether Sanders could win the nomination is more of a question about how catastrophically Clinton could mess up.

Still, moving into the general election, Clinton’s camp will still have to work hard to establish her as a trustworthy progressive.

Locally, part of the challenge for DSH will be to find a way to mobilize their so-called ‘silent majority’. A term originally popularized by Richard Nixon in 1969, Dillan and Samip apply it to the more moderate section of Davis’ left and far left political spectrum. At the time this article went to press, DSB claimed 314 ‘likes’ on Facebook, almost ten times the support of DSH’s page.

Despite being so early in the campus election cycle, those numbers are potentially telling as to how students at Davis may feel about the Democrats. As Emily Isaac, an officer of DSB, said of her group’s progress: “We are Bernie’s Super PAC.”

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