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Sanders supporters may soon have to choose between Clinton and Trump

BY   February 27, 2016 at 3:40 PM EST
A Bernie Sanders supporter carries a sign through a maze of political sign for Sanders and opponent Hillary Clinton in Charleston, South Carolina, January 17, 2016. Photo by Randall Hill/Reuters.

A Bernie Sanders supporter carries a sign through a maze of political sign for Sanders and opponent Hillary Clinton in Charleston, South Carolina, January 17, 2016. Photo by Randall Hill/Reuters.

ORANGEBURG, S.C. — Okee Grant is not looking forward to the general election.

A staunch supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Grant, 48, said she would vote for the Democratic presidential nominee in November, even if the party selects former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has a commanding lead over Sanders heading into today’s primary in South Carolina.

“I don’t see a Republican candidate I can vote for,” Grant said at a Sanders rally in Orangeburg yesterday on the eve of the primary. If Clinton wins the party’s nomination, “I’ll vote for her. But I wouldn’t be excited about it.”

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With Clinton poised to win by a wide margin in South Carolina and several other southern states on Tuesday, Sanders backers have started preparing themselves for the possibility of voting for Clinton in the fall.

Voting for Clinton appears to be easier for some Sanders loyalists to imagine than others, though most share the view that the alternatives — not voting, backing a third-party candidate, or supporting the Republican nominee — are unacceptable, especially if Republicans choose Donald Trump, the current GOP front-runner.

With Clinton poised to win by a wide margin in South Carolina and several other southern states on Tuesday, Sanders backers have started preparing themselves for the possibility of voting for Clinton in the fall.

“It depends on who the Republican candidate is,” said Erin Reagan, 23, a Pennsylvania native who traveled to South Carolina this week to volunteer for the Sanders campaign. “If I’m terrified of him, I will probably vote for Clinton.”

In 2008, many disappointed Clinton backers vowed not to vote for Barack Obama in the general election after the two waged a prolonged and bitter primary battle which lasted until June.

Democrats sided overwhelmingly with Obama in the end, following a longstanding tradition in both parties of primary voters falling in line with their party’s nominee in November.

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Signs point to that pattern continuing this year. But the process could play out faster than it has in recent presidential races.

If Clinton and Trump move on to the general election, an outcome that now appears increasingly likely barring a major upset by Sanders or Republican Senators Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio in the March primaries, voters would have to decide between two candidates with unusually divergent personalities and ideals.

The contest would drive many Sanders supporters to embrace Clinton without much hesitation, said Willie Legette, a political science professor at South Carolina State University.

“For the most part, people who supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries will find it very difficult to vote for Trump” in the general election, Legette said.

Most Democrats, he said, “never vote for a Republican for president. Period.”

That theory could be tested by Trump, should he emerge as the Republican nominee. Though he has staked out conservative positions on immigration and gun control during his campaign for president, he’s had a long track record of taking more moderate views on social issues during his career as a real estate developer.

Trump’s wide-ranging platform and unorthodox style could attract moderate voters in a general election matchup against Clinton. But Trump has done little to win over Democrats in states like South Carolina that have large African-American populations.

As he waited for Sanders to speak in Orangeburg yesterday, John Mack, 21, ruled out voting for Trump. Mack said he plans to vote for Sanders in the primary today.

“The ideas that he stands for are very progressive, and that’s what this country needs right now,” Mack said. Come November, however, “I’d still vote for Hillary.”

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