As Sanders barnstormed across the country to defend Obamacare, his rallies looked like a new fusion in the party — partly the Sanders faithful, but they were complemented by organizations and voters who had been faithful to Hillary Clinton too.
About 10 minutes after Sanders concluded one speech in downtown Pittsburgh in late June, Jared McCray and his sister remained behind the crowd. They looked out at the empty stage where Sanders had just stood.
“This is about people’s lives,” said McCray, echoing a line from Sanders’s speech.
Both had refused to support Clinton in the general election. “We have no regrets” about sitting out the election, said McCray, 24, a touch defensively.
A few feet away from them stood Dean Ofran, 54. A lifelong Pittsburgh resident, Ofran had voted for Clinton in the primary, though he said he harbored no animus toward the Vermont senator.
“Of course I support single-payer — the primary wasn’t about that,” Ofran said. “I just didn’t think he could beat Trump. I still don’t think he could.”
It was a similar story in West Virginia. In the crowd in Charleston, two young men — Sean McAllister, 18, and Sean Hill, 17 — said they both cast write-in ballots for Sanders in the general election. Though they wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, they had showed up to a rally to defend Obamacare, in part because they feared the impacts of the Republican bill’s Medicaid cuts. The “Bernie or Bust” voters who wouldn’t defend President Barack Obama’s legacy against Trump last November now, suddenly, were.
“I’ve been trying to persuade my mom that she was misled by Trump and that Bernie wouldn’t betray her like this,” Hill said.
The work behind the scenes also reflected how Sanders’s tour for Obamacare patched up the old party divisions, at least temporarily.
On the ground, Sanders’s campaign helped endear him to local Democrats who once implacably opposed his candidacy. “There were a significant number of Clinton people who were there,” said Joe Meyer, the mayor of Covington, in an interview about a Sanders rally in his city. “They certainly didn’t stay home — and I think that tells you something. It shows the appeal of the message and the substance of the issue.”
In late February, Sanders spoke at a dinner of the Kansas Democratic Party. He appeared onstage not just with Schumer and Stabenow, both of whom endorsed Clinton, but with Tom Perez and other Clinton backers such as Sens. Chris Van Hollen (MD), Kamala Harris (CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), and Chris Murphy (CT).
Planned Parenthood endorsed Clinton in the primary, leading to an ugly public rift with Sanders in January 2016. But during the Obamacare fight, the two were closely allied. Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards appeared with Sanders and Perez at a rally in Nevada, and Planned Parenthood volunteers stood alongside Sanders’s supporters at events around the country. In last Thursday’s rally outside the Capitol, Sanders returned the favor and specifically thanked Richards and Planned Parenthood — another sign that the party’s internal grievances had been patched up, at least as long as Senate Republicans’ bill hung overhead.