By Hannah Brandt
Unless you have been living under a rock, and perhaps even if you have, you know we are in the final days leading up to the California Primary election to select the Democratic and Republican nominees for president. By this point in a presidential campaign, the nominees for both parties have generally all but been chosen. Competitors have usually conceded defeat by the time California goes to the polls. The last time California was pivotal in a presidential decision was decades ago. But this has been a wildcard election year, with many surprises. And California is a big state, with 546 delegates still at play.
Some of the surprises have been good, such as the massive increase in voter registration in California, up about 650,000 individuals. Some have been decidedly not good, like the fact that an openly bigoted and misogynistic candidate has become the presumptive GOP nominee. Even some Republicans who walk a fine line on those issues have become uncomfortable with his rhetoric. Many new California registrants are young people of color who said they will vote because they feel an urgency to stop Trump. Many also feel inspired by Senator Bernie Sanders.
Sanders has garnered enthusiasm from young people, Independents, and Progressives who are not satisfied with the establishment wing of the Democratic Party, which is seen as too moderate, too slow to act on social issues, and too quick to get involved in military actions. Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has not managed to tie up the nomination before the California Primary, although there continues to be debate about whether the math is too far against Sanders for him to have any chance. Clinton is ahead in pledged delegates (those already committed to vote for a candidate) and superdelegates (who do not vote until the July convention) but Bernie Sanders has still been winning the popular votes in state caucuses and primaries.
California has 71 superdelegates, who are party insiders and elected officials. They have been a bone of contention in this election, much like the electoral college was in 2000. Like the latter, many people were not aware of how this provision, instituted in the Democrat Party in 1982, works. Critics argue that all delegates should cast their votes transparently and proportionately, based on the popular vote. The vast majority of superdelegates have indicated they would vote for Clinton, but the argument of the Bernie Sanders’ camp is that with his massive support among the public, he could still convince some of them to come to his side. Indeed, that they would be obligated to because of the success of his grassroots campaign.
A few weeks ago not many of us would have expected that all three presidential hopefuls would come to Fresno. Republican nominee Donald Trump had a rally at the Convention Center on May 27th, Bernie Sanders held his event at the Fresno Fairgrounds two days later, and Hillary Clinton made a surprise visit to Edison High School on June 4th. The two Democratic contenders have been campaigning throughout the state, and Bernie Sanders seems to have gone to almost every town and city in California over the last few weeks. The Valley has often been overlooked, but given the focus on its drought and agriculture recently, in addition to our large, diverse population, it is increasingly significant to both parties.
When Trump came to town, the atmosphere was tense and based in fear. Police in riot gear flanked the street. His supporters were passionate, his detractors equally devoted. About 200 protestors showed up to voice their anger for his calls to build a wall on the border with Mexico to greatly hinder immigration, ban Muslims from entering the U.S. to prevent terrorism, and his vitriolic statements against women. People came wearing Mexican flags to show pride in their heritage, rejecting Trump’s efforts to degrade them and holding signs saying “Keep Hate Out of Our State.”
Speaking inside to as many as 7000 people, Trump made waves outside the auditorium by saying there is no drought, it is merely a hoax cooked up by environmentalists hoarding water to protect fish. Unfortunately, he did not come up with this idea completely on his own. Trump met with conservative members of the agricultural community who have been saying similar things for two years. His solution? He claims simply turning the pumps back on will fix it. As Trump left town, his motorcade bolted through downtown at a high speed before the area had been cleared, knocking over police barricades and nearly hitting a police officer.
The mood was decidedly different at the Bernie Sanders event: optimistic and unified. The crowd was also vastly more ethnically diverse. No one showed up to protest. Although the reported numbers have varied because the count was stopped after reaching 6500, the Sanders rally attracted between 7000-9000 people. There were about as many fans outside the 5000 seat capacity Paul Paul Theater at the Fresno Fairgrounds as there were inside. Sanders gave a mini-speech to those disappointed they could not fit inside. When Sanders came on stage he was treated to a rock star welcome by an audience that had waited for hours in the heat.
Sanders had just come from speaking to farmworkers in Bakersfield and touring farms in Visalia. He was shocked by the severity of the problem for the agricultural community saying, “This is just as bad as Flint. The water is just as contaminated. Farmworkers are breathing in pesticides while they work.” He scoffed at Trump’s assertion that there is no drought, saying that he had seen ample evidence of it. Sanders discussed how his administration would ensure that farmworkers, and all workers, were treated fairly with access to healthcare and fair labor practices. The wage gap also troubles him. He pointed out that women make 78 cents to a man’s dollar, declaring that, “Women want the whole damn dollar and they’re right!”
On an even more scorching day, Hillary Clinton rolled into town. Despite the heat, at least 1700 people waited for hours, lines snaking around the Edison High campus. The enthusiasm observers have claimed is lacking for her campaign was obvious in that crowd. Unlike at the Trump and Sanders rallies, once inside, much of the audience for Clinton’s event had to stand in the gymnasium. The program included a Folklorico dance performance, followed by speeches from several local representatives and Clinton’s campaign manager, who is from the Central Valley, as well as a young woman who described herself a DREAMer, an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the U.S. as a child.
Much of what Clinton talked about sounded like a Bernie Sanders’ speech. One of his mottos is “Not me, us.” She modified that by saying, “This is not about Trump and me, this is about all of us.” Her focus was on bringing people together, creating jobs, rebuilding infrastructure, and making life better for low and middle-income people. She praised the contributions immigrants make to California and the nation, advocating for comprehensive immigration reform. She did not lay out exactly what she meant by that, but since she has been connecting her campaign to Barack Obama’s presidency one might assume she means to extend the programs he has implemented. She declared that the Valley’s 1.2 million farmworkers would not be deported.
The main difference was in talking about foreign policy. She pointed out that Trump is accruing the endorsements of dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jung Un. Contrasting Trump’s approach with the way President Obama has gone about decision-making, she asserted that her policy would be to, “Go around the table, taking in the information, and really thinking about it before taking action.” She denounced Trump’s announcement that he would kill family members of terrorists, reminding the audience that this is a war crime.
According to Clinton, “This election is about whether we are united or divided.” She remarked that she liked the Edison High mascot slogan of “One Tiger, Many Stripes.” We will see on Tuesday whether Californians see hers as the way forward to that goal or that of Bernie Sanders.
Hannah Brandt is the editor of Community Alliance newspaper. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @HannahBP2. Follow the paper on Facebook at Community Alliance Newspaper and on Twitter and Instagram @fresnoalliance.