Clinton, Sanders look to mobilize complacent California voters

Lucha Prado, center, of Fresno reads campaign material as Olivia Hastings of Fresno fills out volunteer information at the Hillary Clinton for President campaign office in Fresno, Wednesday, June 1, 2016.
Lucha Prado, center, of Fresno reads campaign material as Olivia Hastings of Fresno fills out volunteer information at the Hillary Clinton for President campaign office in Fresno, Wednesday, June 1, 2016. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Sue LaVaccare is fighting “the California complacency.”

With the presidency on the line, it’s the well-documented tendency of many voters in a state filled with sunshine and distractions to shrug at election days.

So LaVaccare, a 47-year-old health care consultant and political fundraiser, is organizing volunteers for Hillary Clinton in the fiercely contested 28th Congressional District in Los Angeles County.

“What I think is our biggest challenge,” LaVaccare says, “is getting her supporters to actually vote.”

While Clinton needs a mere 71 delegates from several states voting on June 7 to claim the Democratic nomination, the fight against rival Bernie Sanders in California has grown increasingly contentious as Sanders gains in polling. Both campaigns are counting on unheralded volunteers like LaVaccare to rouse their supporters.

But there is scant glamor in the operational innards of a campaign. That’s where volunteers armed with computerized data punch in phone numbers to talk with potential voters or sweep through neighborhoods knocking on door after door.

In California, 475 Democratic delegates will be divvied up on Election Day, the most of any state. Many will be doled out based on the outcome in 53 congressional districts, each amounting to its own battleground, like the 28th, an ethnically diverse, Democrat-rich territory running from the tony Hollywood Hills into the suburban sprawl of Burbank.

Mary Kellerman describes herself as a political junkie who has followed Bernie Sanders’ career for years. When she had seen him on television she always thought, “This guy needed to be running for president.”

Her wishful thinking turned to reality, and as Sanders tries to engineer what would be his biggest upset, the campaign organizer is leading a corps of volunteers in Burbank.

“It’s fun to go to a rally, but attending every rally is not going to get Bernie Sanders elected,” said Kellerman, whose neighborhood crew visited 260 homes on a recent weekend.

In the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, Clinton ran up landslide margins in the state, easily outdistancing rival Barack Obama in the February voting. The Sanders gambit: energize new, younger voters who polls show lean in his favor, at best propelling him to an outright win in California or at least allowing him to take crucial delegates from Clinton that he will bring to the party’s convention.

Relying on volunteers

Underscoring the stakes, Clinton has had LaVaccare and other volunteers at work for months. Hollywood for Hillary, as it’s known, has grown into a small army of up to 400 people, whose members have gathered at least 15 times to make phone calls and are knocking on doors in places like Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood. You can hear the urgency in the candidates’ own words, who have been calling on supporters to turn out in record numbers.

Campaigning Wednesday in Spreckels near Salinas, Sanders noted that Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, are devoting several days to campaigning in the state in the run-up to the primary, including a planned Saturday night stop in Fresno by Hillary Clinton.

“I wonder why Secretary Clinton and her husband, Bill, are back in California. I thought we had lost and it was all over,” Sanders told reporters.

Party leaders weigh in

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid weighed in Wednesday, saying Sanders needs to recognize that “sometimes you just have to give up” and should not carry his campaign through to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

President Barack Obama, in a town hall meeting hosted by “PBS NewsHour,” said he expects the Democratic contender to be clear by next week, as well.

A look at Clinton’s campaign’s events in the Los Angeles area provides a peek at her campaign’s strategy, which relies in part on driving up her margins with Hispanics, women and Asians: women-to-women phone calls; Koreans for Hillary, Day of Action; Latino-to-Latino phone calls. It all costs money, but Clinton’s campaign announced Wednesday it has plenty of that: $42 million in the bank after raising more than $240 million during the primaries. In May, she raised more than $27 million, the campaign said. Sanders did not immediately report his fundraising details.

The campaigns are fighting over voters like Guerin Piercy, 29, an actress and registered Democrat from Burbank who says the choice between Clinton and Sanders has been difficult.

In this case, Clinton’s long familiarity in Washington is working against her – Piercy is leaning to Sanders, in part because “she’s been in it too long.”

Long reach

Campaigns employ a host of ways to reach voters – ads can be sent to Facebook pages, for example. They typically stockpile data to suss out voter preferences that can range from registration information to details on their last shopping trip, which can be clues to political leanings.

They constantly track mail-in ballots, so they know who has voted and who hasn’t. Both campaigns have an eye on newly registered voters who this spring will exceed 2 million, more than double the level for the same period in presidential elections in 2008 and 2012, according to research firm Political Data Inc.

“It becomes very critical to not only convince voters to be for you, but also to do everything you can to get them to go to the polls,” said veteran Democratic consultant Bill Carrick, who is not aligned with either campaign.

Kellerman, 41, an executive assistant for a marketing company, says she tries to avoid looking at the up-and-down poll numbers. And she has learned not to be discouraged if someone isn’t interested in talking presidential politics.

“There are people who close their doors on us. That’s OK,” said Kellerman, who is getting over a serious illness and sported an array of colorful Sanders campaign buttons. “I have not felt so energized in a long time.”

The Fresno Bee contributed to this report.

Presidential campaigning in Valley

  • May 23: Former President Bill Clinton at Fresno State’s Satellite Student Union on behalf of his wife, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton
  • May 27: Presumed Republican nominee Donald Trump at Selland Arena
  • May 29: Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders in Visalia and at the Fresno Fairgrounds
  • June 4: Hillary Clinton, site to be announced