Forget about the Southern losses, the struggles with African-American voters and the big delegate deficit. Bernie Sanders’ wealthiest donors want him to continue fighting on, all the way to the July Democratic convention.
That won’t come as welcome news to the Clinton campaign and its allies, who point to the nearly insurmountable delegate lead Hillary Clinton has amassed – they’d like to begin the pivot to the general election. But the relatively small group of pro-Sanders millionaires doesn’t care. In their view, it’s crazy to concede now that the Vermont senator is beginning to string together wins in places as varied as Maine, Colorado and Oklahoma.
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“What people need to understand is that Bernie started off as an unknown. As more and more people learn about him he gets more and more converts. Just look at the national graph of likely Bernie voters vs Clinton voters. Momentum is with Bernie and against Hillary. Now they are just about even. Soon Bernie will surpass Hillary,” said Ben Cohen, the millionaire co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. “Clearly the mood of the country for Republicans, Democrats and Independents is anti-the-Washington establishment. That bodes well for Bernie and quite poorly for Hillary.”
The wealthy Sanders supporters who have given the maximum $2,700 donation for the primary election aren’t necessarily focused on the senator’s chances of winning the nomination. Rather, like the small donors who provide 70 percent of his cash, they’re motivated by his message on economic inequality and poverty and see as playing an important role in remaking the presidential conversation – and the Democratic Party going forward.
“I think he’s got to stay in it. I think in his position right now he’s shaped the entire conversation. The entire agenda of the 2016 Democratic agenda,” said Meredith Burak, a former executive at Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, said.
“I certainly hope that he continues because I think he is making a significant contribution to the rejuvenation of the Democratic Party,” said Deborah Sagner, a New Jersey real estate executive who has maxed out contributions to Sanders. Sagner was an early supporter of President Barack Obama in 2008 and raised money for the effort to get Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run for president before backing Sanders.
While their support hasn’t wavered, Sanders’ wealthy supporters have some critiques of his campaign. They’re especially frustrated by the landslide margins Clinton is winning among African-Americans – and they want Sanders to tweak his message with an eye toward black voters.
“I would like to see Bernie find a better way to have his commitment to African-Americans and people of color — his long standing commitment — to have a better way to communicate that and have it be better understood,” said Jerry Greenfield, the other Ben & Jerry’s co-founder.
Sanders, Greenfield pointed out, has a long history of civil rights activism and has been endorsed prominent African-American voices including Spike Lee and Cornel West. “Yet for some reason,” Greenfield said, “Bernie’s longstanding history with civil rights is not being — either it’s not being communicated well or it’s not being heard for some reason.”
“It’s an issue they’ve got to find a solution to and the timing’s tight for that,” noted John Kirk, a Democratic donor and lawyer in Massachusetts who is supporting Sanders and has also donated to Clinton. “But that’s a real challenge,” he said.
Enrique Diaz Alvarez, a New York financier who along with his wife has maxed out to Sanders, would like to see the Vermont senator fight even harder against Clinton.
“Frankly, I think he has given Hillary very soft, gentleman-like treatment. She is somebody who is a very vulnerable candidate and someone who has some really dodgy deals in her past — I mean someone whose net worth has gone from zero to a $100 million,” he said. “The fact that he has not made more of that than he has, perhaps out of fear of injuring Hillary and therefore enabling some horror from the Republican Party…I would not have let Hillary get off as easy as he seems to have.”
Sanders’ donors also tend to be big Elizabeth Warren supporters. While Kirk – who has maxed out to the Massachusetts senator — took no issue with Warren’s decision to sit on her hands in the recent Massachusetts primary, some wish she would have delivered her endorsement to Sanders.
In a race that Clinton won narrowly, a Warren endorsement could have helped put Sanders over the top, Burak said.
“I can’t tell Senator Warren what she should or shouldn’t do. Would I like her to jump in? I mean absolutely. She’s basically endorsed Bernie’s entire platform other than declaring her endorsement of it. And I think she could have done a lot for Bernie in Massachusetts,” Burak argued. “So would I have liked her to endorse? Absolutely.”
Even without Warren’s support, Sanders’ backers hold out hope he can still roar back to capture the nomination.
“I have a very hopeful nature and he really inspires me to imagine an America with social, economic and racial justice,” Sagner said.
Ken Vogel and Gabriel Debenedetti contributed reporting.