Bernie Sanders returned to Vermont on Wednesday after a brutal day on the campaign trail earlier this week. His decisive loss in the battleground of California has sharpened calls for his concession to Hillary Clinton. But Sanders has vowed to fight on, for now at least. And many of his home-state supporters stand behind that decision.
The white charter jet carrying Bernie Sanders touched down in Burlington at about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Democratic presidential candidate decided to bypass the throng of expectant media that had been waiting for hours at the airport for his return.
His Secret Service motorcade instead delivered him to a crowd of about 150 supporters that had lined the Williston Road sidewalk about a quarter mile away from the tarmac.
Sanders and his wife, Jane, got out of their tan sport-utility vehicle. Flanked tightly by anxious Secret Service agents, they moved into the crowd.
One supporter marveled at his tan.
“The weather in California is a little bit different,” he told them.
Sanders trails his rival in pledged delegates and in the popular vote, and calls for him to unite the party by acknowledging defeat have grown louder.
But supporters like Shane Beam, a 29-year-old from Essex Junction, aren’t ready for him to bow.
“I’m still the thought process of Bernie or bust, take it to the convention, see what happens,” Beam says.
Beam arrived at the sidewalk near the airport for an impromptu welcome-home rally two hours before Sanders would arrive. Dressed in a bright orange “Feel the Bern” tank top, Beam says the results in California were a serious disappointment.
But he says he’s “all in on Bernie.” And he says he doesn’t see that changing, no matter what happens at the Democratic National Convention next month.
“I don’t know – coming around on Hillary, that’d be tough,” Beam says. “It’d be tough for me to go from all in on Bernie to supporting Hillary.”
Charlotte Norris-Brown made the short trip from her home in Burlington to witness the senator’s homecoming. Since she’s confident Clinton would take Vermont comfortably, Norris-Brown says she’s not sure how she’ll vote in November if Clinton gets the nod. But if she lived in a swing state where the outcome was in doubt, she says the choice would be easy.
“Yes, I would definitely vote for Hillary,” she says.
That doesn’t mean Norris-Brown is at all satisfied with the outcome of the Democratic primary, or the environment it played out in.
“To me a win in California would have shown the world that the movement is stronger than the resistance, and I still think it is, but it’s tougher now, and I just feel very sad,” Norris-Brown says. “I’ve lost faith in our system of elections.”
While Sanders bypassed national and local media that had been expecting a press conference, his campaign manager Jeff Weaver fielded a few questions near the runway.
Weaver says it always feels good to be back in Vermont, where Sanders launched his bid last May.
“I mean, his has been a phenomenal campaign,” Weaver says. “I don’t think anybody here would have believed we could have gotten where we’ve got in this past year.”
Weaver was asked whether Sanders still plans a contested convention in Philadelphia in July.
“Well, I mean, technically it will be a contested convention, because no one’s going to arrive with the requisite number of pledged delegates to have the nomination sealed up,” he said.
In the meantime, Weaver says Sanders plans to campaign hard in Washington, D.C., which holds its primary next week. Sanders will meet with President Barack Obama on Wednesday, then hold a campaign rally in D.C. on Thursday.
The scene that played out on Williston Road Wednesday demonstrated Sanders’ enduring appeal with the voters who remain unswayed by the seemingly impossible delegate math.
Though he says it seems unlikely now, Shane Beam says there is one thing that might compel him to consider Clinton.
“If Bernie got behind her, it would certainly help sway the chances that I get behind her,” Beam says.
Where Bernie goes, supporters have so far followed. And as the race hurtles toward the nominating convention, just about everybody will be watching where he takes them.
This story has been updated.