Vermont's top Democratic officials say they don't think Sen. Bernie Sanders’ continued presence in the Democratic presidential race is hurting the candidacy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
They believe the Sanders and Clinton camps will eventually come together to defeat expected Republican nominee Donald Trump in the fall campaign.
The Sanders campaign is vowing to take its fight to win the nomination all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer.
But there's a growing number of high-profile Hillary Clinton supporters who think this is a very bad idea. They argue that Sanders’ continuing challenge will hurt Clinton's chances of winning the general election in November.
Congressman Peter Welch is a superdelegate who supports Sanders. He thinks Sanders should run a very active campaign in the three weeks leading up the California primary on June 7.
"The thing that has propelled Bernie's campaign is his focus, his relentless focus on the issues,” Welch says. “And I think the more he does that, the stronger he'll be going into California. And of course that doesn't require that he go after Hillary in any particular way."
Gov. Peter Shumlin, also a superdelegate, supports Clinton. He says he's not going to offer Sanders any advice on how to run his campaign.
“Meanwhile, he's raising issues that I care about, he's raising issues Vermonters care about,” Shumlin says. “And leave it to Bernie's judgment to figure out how best to land the plane."
Sen. Patrick Leahy is also a Clinton superdelegate. He says any decision on how this campaign should proceed has to be made by the two candidates.
"Certainly Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are going to have to ask, ‘What's the best way to stop Donald Trump from being president?’” Leahy says.
When the primary elections are over on June 14, Leahy says he'd be willing to help bring the Sanders and Clinton campaigns together if they ask him to.
"I'm obviously good friends with Bernie Sanders and very good friends with Hillary Clinton. I'm willing to help anyway I can, but they're both grown ups; they know the stakes,” Leahy says.
And Leahy says it's essential that Sanders and Clinton work out their differences.
“If they're united, Donald Trump will be defeated. If they're not united, then Donald Trump will be elected. It's as simple as that,” Leahy says.
Congressman Welch agrees on the importance of party unity. And he's optimistic that Sanders and Clinton will join together for the fall campaign.
“If you have two candidates who are talking about middle class issues and they have stylistic differences, they have different personalities and records, those are important. But they're resolvable,” Welch says. “Because the real focus here the contrast between what Bernie and Hillary have been talking about … versus what Trump is talking about."
And Welch acknowledges that the Sanders campaign might have to realize after the California primary that they will fall short of winning the nomination.
“If the votes aren't there, how do you help your supporters learn the lesson that all of us have to learn in life?” Welch says. “We've got to keep going on and keep our eye on the prize. And the prize, by the way, is much more worth winning because of Bernie changing the whole dialogue and debate, not only in the Democratic Party but in the country."
Welch says Sanders faces a major challenge to win a majority of elected delegates. In order for this to happen, Sanders would need to win the California primary with almost 70 percent of the vote.