LEBANON, N.H. — Gone was the revolutionary’s rhetoric and his talk of “rigged systems,” disappearing overnight like the Secret Service agents who once followed US Senator Bernie Sanders around the country during his noisy, energetic presidential campaign.
Instead, a subdued Sanders arrived Monday at Lebanon High School for an outdoor rally, where many in the crowd were supporters from the New Hampshire primary that catapulted the Vermonter into a long two-way race with Hillary Clinton.
Sanders touched on issues he has championed for decades — income inequality, tax increases for the wealthy, and infrastructure investment. But this time, Sanders was there for another purpose: his first solo rally to campaign for Clinton since his former primary foe accepted the Democratic presidential nomination.
“I am not the world’s most partisan person,” he said. “But the truth is, if you look at Donald Trump’s record, what you find is that this guy is a pathological liar.”
Clinton, he said, “is the superior candidate, hands down.”
The Clinton campaign declined to release details on Sanders’ future campaign activities for her, except to say he was “committed to campaigning across the country.” But if his Labor Day rally was any indication, voters should expect an intense focus on policy from Sanders. During his 35-minute speech, Sanders waded through a host of matters that he said he and Clinton agreed upon, and repeatedly stressed the election was about issues — not personalities.
To illustrate the point, Sanders said he largely agreed with Clinton on pay equity for women, criminal justice and immigration reform, climate change, childhood poverty, and more. He also said Clinton, long embattled for her alleged ties to the rich donors for her family’s foundation while she was US secretary of state, would “make sure the wealthiest corporations and people will start paying their fair share of taxes.”
“We cannot have a president of the United States that keeps changing his position every day,” Sanders said, in a reference to Trump.
The rally in Lebanon capped a busy holiday for Sanders in New Hampshire, the same state where he handily defeated Clinton in the first-in-the-nation primary by more than 20 points in February. Earlier on Monday, Sanders headlined a breakfast sponsored by local labor unions in Manchester before jetting to another event, called a “Political Revolution Party” in Warner, N.H.
At the breakfast, US Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, urged former Sanders supporters not to voice dissatisfaction by voting for third-party candidates.
“What happened in 2000 is Al Gore lost New Hampshire by about 7,000 votes, and 19,000 people voted for Ralph Nader,” she said. “And we got George W. Bush, and we got the war in Iraq.”
At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer, many Sanders supporters protested Clinton’s nomination — some by walking out of the arena, chanting during the program, or protesting outside. From a strategic standpoint, having Sanders campaign for Clinton would seem to be an effort to bring his liberal supporters into her fold.
But some Sanders supporters still openly spoke of defecting from the Democratic Party at his rally in Lebanon.
The crowd, which totaled about 350 people, appeared to be a cross-section of young Sanders fans, older Clinton voters, and people like Kristi Zola and Noah Burridge, two Sanders voters who refused to back Clinton.
Clinton “deleted classified e-mails. She should be in jail,” said Burridge, a 19-year-old from Vermont.
Zola, 45, of Wheelock, Vt., brought her four children to protest Monday’s rally.
“She rigged the election,” Zola said in reference to Clinton, though she admitted there is no evidence to support those claims.
Burridge and Zola were supporting the Green Party’s nominee, Dr. Jill Stein, because there was no substantive difference in policy between Clinton and Trump, they said.
But many other Sanders supporters at the rally disagreed with this assessment, and followed Sanders in backing Clinton for the general election.
Sue Spademan, a woman “well in her 90s” from Wilder, Vt., called Clinton “the most qualified presidential candidate in modern history.”
“Bernie’s supporters should follow Bernie’s lead and support the Democratic party,” said Spademan as she made her way to the rally. “If people don’t think she’s better than the alternative, I’m scared.”
Eleanor Coffey, an 85-year-old from West Lebanon, N.H. who called Sanders her “lifelong hero,” said she was now voting for Clinton as a protest against Trump.
“It is my job to vote for Hillary, and then hold her feet to the fire to make sure she follows through on her promises,” Coffey said.
Sanders told his supporters that voting was only one part of civic duty. In his speech, he encouraged voters to demand more of their politicians, especially when it comes to keeping campaign promises.
He mentioned the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which he opposed, and pushed Clinton to oppose during the primary.
Sanders also encouraged voters to support other Democratic candidates down the ballot, before highlighting the competitive US Senate race in New Hampshire.
Governor Maggie Hassan, a Democrat challenging Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, addressed the crowd after Sanders spoke.
As supporters filed out, Dianne Rochford, 77, of Newport N.H., said she was impressed with the amount of young people Sanders could immediately engage.
Sanders “made it clear that we have to defeat Trump, but he also said over and over again the places where he and Hillary agree,” Rochford said. “We can’t just be against something, we want to be for something.”
Julie McCashin, 53, of Hanover, N.H., attended the rally with her 18-year-old son, Brendan Amos.
McCashin, a Day One Clinton supporter, said any “failure to vote for Hillary puts the country at risk.” Amos, a student, said he was still undecided about voting for Clinton.
Amos supported Sanders in the primary, but he was too young to vote at the time.
“I’m coming here with an open mind,” Amos said as he entered the rally.
When reached by phone following the event, Amos said Sanders’ pitch had persuaded him to vote for Clinton in November.
His mother rejoiced.