A nine-state unity tour featuring independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and new Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez kicked off in Portland Monday night.
Sanders’ progressive supporters and establishment Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton for president may be united in opposition to President Donald Trump, but they are still eyeing each other warily. Sanders’ supporters called Clinton’s nomination a coronation, and in Maine the hard feelings linger.
Standing on line at Portland’s State Theater, Lubec resident Soni Biehl sported Bernie signs and buttons left over from last year’s campaign. She said she doesn’t expect the party to change its stripes.
“I think that it’s going to fizzle out — the Dems are going to use him as long as they can and then they’re going to get rid of him like they did before,” she said.
Inside the theater — the scene of a massive, raucous Sanders rally last year — former Maine lawmaker Deborah Simpson, wearing Clinton buttons, said she also didn’t anticipate any great reconciliation between the factions.
“I think it’s really hard for people who haven’t really tried to make a difference in politics, get something done, know how really hard it is to work with people and accomplish a goal. It’s easy to say a revolution, and we’re all together and we’re going to have a revolution, but in fact in history there’s no revolution that didn’t involve a revolution and I don’t think these people really want a revolution — it’s about how our system works,” she said.
That didn’t stop Perez, the former U.S. Labor secretary who won the DNC chairmanship over Sanders’ favored candidate, from making a plea for support from the Sanders’ passionate backers.
I know we have a lot of work to do in the Democratic Party, and we have to earn your trust, and we earn your trust by putting Democratic values into action folks,” he said.
There were several boos and outbursts as Perez condemned what he cast as Trump’s anti-working class agenda. But he had a lot of applause lines too.
So did Sanders, when he reeled of his familiar roster of outrages by the ultra-rich and Washington establishment against the best interests of most Americans.
Still, the crowd really roared when Sanders turned his sights on the Democrats.
“Our job is to radically transform the Democratic Party, to transform the Democratic Party into a 50-state party which does not continue to ignore half of the states in our country, including some of the poorest states in America,” he said. “Our job is to create a democratic Democratic party, a grassroots party where decisions are made from the bottom on up, not from the top on down.”
Sanders certainly re-energized his core constituents, who dominated the audience. But many, such as Kathy Bouchard of Scarborough, seemed less inclined to put that energy to work for the party.
“I think people obviously really love Bernie and they are still a little bit unsure about Tom Perez. We need to see more. We need to be convinced,” she said.
Sanders and Perez may take another shot at that in Maine — only not in its southern 1st Congressional District, which, after all, did ultimately vote for Clinton in the general election. Party staffers saod Sanders and Perez plan to visit the more rural and poorer 2nd District.
While it voted for Barack Obama in 2012, that district chose Trump in 2016, and next year, Democrats are hoping to unseat the district’s Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.