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Northland Sanders supporters mixed on backing Clinton

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders gestures while speaking during a rally supporting the Clinton-Kaine presidential ticket and other Democratic candidates at the Kirby Ballroom on the campus of the University of Minnesota Duluth on Tuesday night. (Clint Austin /

Minnesotans strongly backed Bernie Sanders during the caucuses in March, and Wisconsin residents gave him a victory in the state's April primary -- and some of his supporters have been reluctant to embrace Hillary Clinton.

So for those who were on the fence before hearing the Vermont senator put his full support behind the Democratic nominee in Duluth on Tuesday night: Is it still Bernie or bust?

“Prior to his speech here I was a Bernie supporter — I was undecided if I was going to vote,” said Andrea Debungie, 33, who came with her family to the rally at the University of Minnesota Duluth. “Seeing him here does encourage me to vote for (Clinton).”

She still wasn’t ready to fully commit even after Sanders spent half an hour painting Clinton as his equal on progressive policies — and neither was Simon Puder.

“He definitely made a strong argument,” said Puder, a 26-year-old Northland College student who came from Ashland to listen to Sanders. “I’m fairly sure I’m going to vote for Clinton. I also believe I should vote for my ideals and values.”

The crowd’s values were on display during Sanders’ speech, and often the collective cheers and jeers against Republican nominee Donald Trump were as loud or louder than Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton.

Before the rally, there was a mix of Clinton supporters and Sanders backers still not ready to take the plunge.

“I’m hoping Bernie can convince me to vote for her,” said Clare Ford, 52, of Duluth.

Recent UMD graduate Josh Muhich, 23, captured what likely brought out most of the crowd Tuesday night.

“I’m more for Bernie than Hillary, but Hillary’s better than Trump,” he said.

During the campaign, Sanders resonated with young voters in a way similar to President Barack Obama’s 2008 run.

One of the first speakers of the night was Duluth Mayor Emily Larson, who also made a strong pitch for Clinton. When she asked the crowd of more than 200 people to raise their hand if this was their first time voting in a presidential election, nearly 100 hands went up.

A campaigner for U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan commented that a wide range of people, not just the politically inclined, showed up to Tuesday’s rally.

“The line has been full of different majors — it’s a really diverse group,” said Shelby Chmielecki, a 22-year-old student at the College of St. Scholastica. “Bernie Sanders brings out diversity.”

Chmielecki didn’t hesitate when she said she was behind Clinton, and neither did Mary Rehwald.

“I was a strong Bernie supporter; I think he’s the strongest candidate,” said the 73-year-old Ashland resident, but added she has no problem voting for Clinton.

Debungie, who came with her husband, Mino-giizhik, and her 10-year-old daughter, Animikiikwe, was swayed but not sold on how to use her vote, though she admitted it had to go to against Trump.

“It’s hard to vote against someone,” she said. “I’d love to use that vote for Bernie Sanders.”

The undecided or perhaps unmotivated voters could prove a challenge to Clinton’s chances in crucial states.

“Democrats are so worried about Hillary that they’re making Sanders come to Minnesota today to try to explain to the 62 percent of Democrats who voted for him at caucuses exactly why he sold out,” the state Republican Party said in a statement Tuesday.

Polling analyst Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight website gave Clinton an 82.3 percent chance of winning Minnesota’s 10 electoral votes as of Tuesday night.

Brooks Johnson

Brooks is an investigative reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune.

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