Politics

'Still Standing:' Sanders DC Rally Bittersweet

Supporters don't want campaign ride to end, and some are conflicted about Clinton

Bernie Sanders, and his wife, Jane, conclude a rally outside of RFK Stadium. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Bernie Sanders’ last stand may well have been in a parking lot in the nation’s capital, surrounded by his campaign’s faithful.  

“Here we are in June and still standing,” the Vermont senator told supporters at a rally of more than 3,000 on Thursday night.   

The event might well be the final one of his presidential bid with the District of Columbia set to conclude the primary season on Tuesday.  

Sanders addressed the excited crowd gathered in the parking lot of Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. Earlier in the day, he met with President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders of the Senate, signaling the beginning of the end of his campaign.  

He ended his day on a picture-perfect spring night, surrounded by supporters who said they showed up to prove to Sanders that they still had his back after he officially fell short in primary and caucus balloting to Hillary Clinton, now the presumptive Democratic nominee.  

[ Sanders Signals He'll Work With Clinton to Beat Trump ]  

“Thank you Bernie!” the crowd chanted after he took the stage.  

Sanders didn't speak about those meetings or the fact that Clinton had reached the number of delegates necessary to clinch the nomination. Instead he spoke about income inequality, climate change, and other topics that have dominated his upstart campaign.  

Sanders did not say whether he would end his campaign in the near future. But he ended his speech by imploring D.C. primary voters to send a message.  

"It would be extraordinary if the people of Washington, our nation's capital, stood up and told the world that they are ready to lead this country into a political revolution," Sanders said.  

The mood in the crowd was positive, with a festival-like atmosphere.  

Sanders supporters milled around, ate from food trucks parked outside the security entrance, and chatted with one another. Many were excited to see the candidate they supported throughout the lengthy Democratic primary, and some were still hopeful Sanders could win the nomination.  

“I feel like it’s not over until it’s over,“ said David Gilkey, a 27 year-old web developer from Cumberland, Maryland.  

Gilkey donned red, white and blue face paint and draped a flag over his shoulders with the message, “Not me, us,” on the flag. He said he planned to go to Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention in July.  

“I’m going to be there in the streets,” Gilkey said. “Bernie or bust.”  

[ Reid Believes Sanders Accepts Clinton as Nominee ]  

Gilkey said he couldn’t vote for Clinton because she was “crooked,” citing her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. So he planned to either not vote or write in Sanders.  

Asked if there was anything Clinton could do to win his vote, Gilkey responded, “No. No. No.”  

What to do next divided the Sanders supporters in the crowd, with some saying they could not stomach voting for Clinton, or the Republican presumptive nominee, billionaire Donald Trump.  

[ Sanders' Long-Shot Delegate Hunt ]  

“This is going to be a tough election for me,” said David Grubb, 75, of D.C., who was sporting a Peace Corps hat while waiting in line to enter the rally.  

Grubb said he was part of the first class of Peace Corps volunteers and a student organizer for John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1960. He said he couldn’t see Clinton making a “dramatic change” and disagreed with her foreign policy.  

“I would vote for Mickey Mouse before I pick Trump or Hillary,” said Deonte Smith, 24, who grew up in D.C. and works at the armory across the street from the rally, as a member of the military.  

“A lot of people would say choose the lesser of two evils. And I would just vote for neither,” said Smith. “I don’t want any of the evils.”  

The Sanders event was Smith’s first political rally. He was there with his best friend, Forrest Penrod, 21, a part-time student at Howard University in D.C. Penrod said Sanders supporters should back Clinton, saying not doing so could lead a Trump presidency with dangerous consequences.  

“I will vote for Hillary, only because of Trump,” Penrod said.  

[ Senate Colleagues Predict More Clout for Sanders ]  

Penrod and Smith are the kind of young Sanders supporters Clinton will likely work to bring into her campaign in the coming months. Like Penrod, some of Sanders' supporters say they will support Clinton only to stop Trump.  

“I’ll do it over Trump,” Celia Reilly, an 18 year-old college student from Maryland. “The thing is, it’s just who she’s running against.”  

Reilly, who had orange curly hair and was sporting a hat with a “Bernie” sticker on it, was sitting on a concrete structure with two friends, waiting for the rally to begin.  

“I’m very hopeful but I know it’s ending,” said one of those friends, Kelsey Joyce, a 19 year-old college student, with pink streaks in her hair.  

“I just don’t want it to end,” she said.  

Tom Williams contributed to this report.

Contact Bowman at bridgetbowman@rollcall.com and follow her on Twitter at @bridgetbhc .

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