PHILADELPHIA — Illinois delegates flocked to Philadelphia on Sunday ahead of what has already been a dramatic start to the Democratic National Convention, amid leaked Democratic National Committee emails that targeted Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign.
And there’s a continued surge of support for the Vermont senator just days before Hillary Clinton will accept the presidential nomination.
Delegates from Illinois include elected officials, longtime Hillary supporters — including childhood and longtime friends — and those with ties to Bill Clinton. But the blue state also saw a late surge in Sanders’ support, which led him to host a large rally in Chicago a day before the March primary. Clinton won Illinois with 50.6 percent of the vote, with Sanders trailing very close behind with 48.6 percent.
Of Illinois’ 196 delegates, 83 are pledged to Sanders, including Clem Balanoff, who ran his campaign in the state.
On Sunday, Balanoff called the leaked emails “outrageous” and said he supports Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s decision to quit after the convention.
“People like this, it’s like if it wasn’t within the party, this is the kind of thing you go to jail for,” Balanoff said. “It’s similar to Watergate. The break in and playing games, that’s wrong. And the whole idea is very Donald Trump-ish. When [Wasserman Schultz] tries to divide the religious wedge to be able to win a nomination. It’s outrageous.”
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Still, Balanoff said he’s happy with the progress made thus far — which he credits to Sanders’ supporters seeking a “revolution” — including the rules committee decision on Friday to create a “unity” commission to downgrade the number of superdelegates.
“It’s a long process. it’s been a long process and we’ve got about 75 to 80 percent of what we’ve been asking for,” Balanoff said. “That’s an improvement.”
And Balanoff, like many other Illinois Sanders’ delegates, said he’ll vote for Clinton.
“We have to understand something. Trump has to be defeated. There is only one alternative after this and that’s Hillary Rodham Clinton, whether or not it’s my first choice,” Balanoff said. “I’m going to be supporting her because I understand the importance of the Supreme Court. . . . That is critical to the things I believe in and that I fought for for all my life, and I can’t afford to take that chance.”
Just a couple of blocks from where Illinois delegates checked in, hundreds of Sanders supporters staged a protest, many chanting “Hell No, DNC, we won’t vote for Hillary.” They carried signs that read “#StillSanders” and “Bernie or Bust,” and wore shirts that read “I Love Bernie.”
Rebecca Abraham, a Sanders delegate from Chicago, watched the protest from across the street. Abraham — who is avoiding the hefty cost of convention hotels by splitting an Airbnb with five other Illinois Sanders delegates — said the leaked emails are on the minds of Sanders supporters amassing the convention.
“The emails were very upsetting. They let him run with the Democrats . . . and if you let somebody run with your party then you let them run. [Wasserman Schultz] didn’t let him do that. Let the people have a voice. It’s a democracy,” Abraham said.
Despite the displeasure at the committee’s attacks on Sanders, Abraham said many Sanders supporters believe they have but one choice.
“I think the biggest goal is defeating Donald Trump,” said Abraham, 32.
Clinton supporters stormed into the Illinois delegation hotel wearing T-shirts, pins and hats bearing her name. And there was much talk of party unity — with many pledging their confidence that the Democratic party is indeed unified against Trump.
State Sen. Jacqueline Collins is among the Clinton delegates. She said she hopes Sanders will reiterate his support for Clinton during his Monday night address before the convention, despite the email scandal.
“We need unity as a party. I think I want him to reiterate what he said when he endorsed her,” Collins said.
“She is a survivor. And I respect her for being able to not be swayed by the negativity that I hear, the rhetoric of hatred, and bigotry, and borderline xenophobia,” said Collins, D-Chicago. “I think that she upholds what it means to be a Democrat, and I think as a country we have to come together across gender, race and religious boundaries to really make America as good as is promised.”
Clinton delegate Elaine Weiss, who served as regional director for the U.S. Department of Health And Human Services under President Bill Clinton’s first term, said she’s confident the Democratic Party is united, despite a rough start.
“We’re Democrats, so starting chaotically is not a surprise. But I have no doubt that it’s a very united party which is completely committed to making sure that we are successful in November, because after watching the events of last week, there is no chaos in the world that is going to take us off track from our mission this week,” Weiss said.
Contributing: Lynn Sweet