New Jersey’s Democratic county chairs aren’t criticizing U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for staying on the ballot after dropping out of the presidential race, though they urged unity amid the functional end of the race for the party nod to take on President Donald Trump.
“We understand that Sanders left himself on the ballot to support his delegates that have pledged themselves to him,” Hudson County Chairwoman Amy DeGise said. “I hope separate from that, the Sanders camp, the Biden camp, the entire DNC are actively communicating how they are going to bring the party together and win in November.”
Sanders announced he was suspending his campaign on Wednesday after months during which the two-time presidential candidate’s early delegate lead evaporated as the party’s moderate voters coalesced around former Vice President Joe Biden.
Still, the Democratic Socialist is keeping his name on the ballot in states that have yet to hold primaries in an effort to bring up his delegate count and exert pressure over the party platform at the Democratic National Committee’s August convention.
While the move might assuage portions of Sanders’ base that have shown reluctance to support Biden, the presumptive nominee, it’s not winning much in the way of praise from some New Jersey Democrats.
“I get it,” Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones said. “I’m not terribly pleased by it, but I get it. It’s just one of these things political operatives and county and municipal chairs, and even state chairs, just have to accept and be prepared to adapt and execute in that environment.”
Other chairs viewed the move with less reproach.
“We do need unity amongst the party, and I think now is the time to coalesce around Joe Biden. At the same time, I do think we need to be respectful of those who supported Sen. Sanders,” Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Michael Suleiman said. “Candidly, Sen. Sanders brought a lot to the table when it comes to policy positions. Not that I agreed with all of them, but certainly I think the biggest contribution Bernie Sanders has made to our politics is highlighting the incredible income inequality in our country and even in our state.”
Suleiman is a delegate for Biden.
Also present are concerns that Sanders’ continued presence on the ballot could create confusion for Democratic primary voters, especially in counties and congressional districts where Democratic incumbents face off-the-line primary challenges.
To be clear, none of the county chairs told the New Jersey Globe they were concerned about voters being unable to find Biden or Sanders on the ballot, and few expressed unease over the possibility of the Vermont senator’s presence confounding voters.
“Cause confusion? No, because he never bracketed, so he would just be out there by himself,” Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe said, referring to Sanders. “If they vote for him, clearly that’s what they want to do. That’s their prerogative.”
DeGise echoed that sentiment, as did Suleiman, whose county will host a five-way primary for the Democratic nod in the second congressional district.
Democratic voters there can expect a complicated ballot regardless of whether Sanders is on the ballot in July.
The Hudson and Atlantic County chairs urged the senator’s supporters to not sit out of the general election after watching their candidate lose for a second time.
“I also hope that the delegates supporting him and still on the ballot because of him will work just as hard in November for the party as they have for him these past few months,” DeGise said. “I do not think Bernie’s movement will die off because he is no longer in the race, but there is still work to be done to unite the party, and I hope everyone involved is up for that task.”
Suleiman’s urging was a little more blunt.
“Our number one effort is to defeat Donald Trump, and candidly, we can’t have anyone sitting one sidelines and saying ‘only Bernie’ or ‘Bernie or Bust,’” he said. “That doesn’t help things either.”