Shock, then aw: Sanders backers move on after endorsement of Clinton

Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, endorses rival Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination at a New Hampshire rally, dismaying some Sanders supporters in Arizona. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders’ endorsement Tuesday of rival Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination was met with resignation from many of his Arizona delegates, followed by calls for party unity.

Most of the delegates contacted said they would still vote for the Vermont senator on the first ballot at the convention later this month, but that it is time to move on and work on promoting a platform and electing Clinton.

“I was expecting him not to concede until the convention,” said Mikel Weisser, a Sanders delegate from Arizona. “But this was a strategically chosen time to give delegates such as myself time to shift gears and get into the purpose of the convention, which is to push our ideals and build coalitions.”

While the timing surprised some, Weisser said the endorsement came at a key time when the need for party unity is high.

With the convention and the general election right around the corner, Phoenix political consultant Jason Rose said that the move was an important one.

“This endorsement is maybe more influential than her vice presidential pick,” Rose said. “While most polls show the Democrats behind Clinton, there is an enthusiasm gap with her” that Sanders could fill.

Sanders’ endorsement came during a Clinton campaign event in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he congratulated her on winning the nomination and stressed the importance of electing her.

“I have come here today not to talk about the past but to focus on the future,” Sanders said. “That future will be shaped more by what happens on Nov. 8 in voting booths across our nation than by any other event in the world.

“I have come here to make it as clear as possible as to why I am endorsing Hillary Clinton and why she must become our next president,” he said.

But some Arizona delegates in the “Bernie or Bust” movement said they were extremely upset by the endorsement, saying it changed their perspective on Sanders’ campaign and the convention.

“It was done completely tastelessly and it left us delegates blindsided,” said Kelly Thornton, a Sanders delegate from Prescott. “Bernie flat-out lied to us, he said he was in it through the conventions.”

Thornton said last week that she would never get behind Clinton, even with Sanders’ support, and said then that she “won’t be partying” like some at the convention since she would be there to work.

While she said she still won’t back Clinton, Thornton said her plans for the convention have now changed in light of Tuesday’s endorsement.

“I’m going to be there in solidarity with progressives and protesters now,” Thornton said. “I’m going more to protest and party.”

Despite protests from this wing of Bernie supporters, most other delegates said they plan to vote in the general election for whomever the party chooses. Sanders’ Arizona delegates planned a conference call Tuesday night to discuss the next steps after the endorsement.

“I’m still planning on going and voting Sanders in the first round and then championing the nominee,” Weisser said.

Other delegates echoed this message, saying that the party’s main goal now is to elect a Democrat in November.

“I’m a Sanders delegate,” said Channel Powe, a delegate from Phoenix. “My allegiance is to him for the convention. In November, it’s blue no matter who.”

– Cronkite News reporters Selena Makrides in Phoenix and Keshia Butts and Veronica Acosta in Washington contributed to this report.