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With The Nomination All But Decided, Clinton's And Sanders' Goals Change

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at her primary election night rally in Philadelphia.
Matt Rourke
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at her primary election night rally in Philadelphia.

Hillary Clinton hasn't won the nomination, yet. And Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders hasn't technically lost. But in a statement released after the results were in, Sanders' rhetoric took a notable turn.

"[W]e are in this race until the last vote is cast," he said, with no mention of winning the nomination.

Instead, "[T]his campaign is going to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia with as many delegates as possible to fight for a progressive party platform."

Clinton's primary victories in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Delaware — Sanders won Rhode Island — all but ensure her of the nomination. She tacitly acknowledged this in her victory speech in Philadelphia by spending a lot of time talking about party unity.

"I applaud Senator Sanders and his millions of supporters for challenging us to get unaccountable money out of our politics," Clinton said, "and giving greater emphasis to closing the gap of inequality and I know together we will get that done."

Her message to Sanders supporters: there's much more that unites us than divides us.

But based on social media posts many Sanders supporters aren't yet, and may never be ready to line up behind Clinton. Just search #BernieOrBust on Twitter.

Achieving Party Unity After A Bitter Contest

The Democratic Party has been here before. In 2008, it faced a similarly contentious and extended primary battle - you could argue it was more contentious - between then-senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

By the end, many of Clinton's supporters were left with hard feelings. Some even called themselves PUMAs, Party Unity get the idea.

"I spent an enormous amount of time convincing my supporters to support [Obama]," Clinton said this week. "And I am happy to say the vast majority did. That is what I think one does. That is certainly what I did and I hope that we will see the same this year."

Clinton — on the convention floor in Denver — even stopped the roll call vote and called on delegates to nominate Obama by acclamation.

Clinton had many reasons to heal the rift. She was and is a true-blue Democrat and didn't want to be blamed for damaging her party's nominee. And she had aspirations - maybe to be part of the Obama administration, perhaps to run for president again.

This Time The Story Is More Complicated

Sanders has never been a registered Democrat and has long prided himself on his independent status. His convention goals are likely to be different. Sanders was asked by one of his supporters whether, if he lost the nomination, he would encourage his backers to vote for Clinton. He pointedly said it's not up to him.

"You know we're not a movement where I can snap my fingers and say to you or to anybody else what you should do," Sanders said. "'Cause you won't listen to me. You shouldn't. You'll make these decisions yourself."

The decisions facing Sanders going forward may well be more challenging than Clinton's in 2008. He's been running against the political establishment, against what he calls a corrupt campaign finance system. It's a system Clinton says she opposes but still operates in.

So, how would Sanders then endorse the establishment candidate and not leave his supporters feeling as though he sold out? Only, he suggested, if Clinton buys in to his campaign's message.

"It is incumbent upon Secretary Clinton to reach out, not only to my supporters but to all of the American people," Sanders said, "with an agenda that they believe will represent the interests of working families, lower income people, the middle class, those of us who are concerned about the environment and not just big-money interests."

Sanders has also said he will do everything in his power to make sure a Republican doesn't win the race for president in 2016. Clinton's camp is counting on a common foe to help bring the party together.

Tamara Keith's radio piece was featured in a conversation with Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep; Clinton supporter Neera Tanden, president and CEO of Center for American Progress; and Sanders supporter Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America.

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Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.