Alexandria, Va. — Heading into Super Tuesday, Hillary Clinton is just one pledged delegate ahead of Bernie Sanders. But at a Virginia campaign rally with Bill Clinton on Wednesday, the Vermont senator seemed like an afterthought. Even as the Clinton campaign approaches the height of the Democratic primary, Donald Trump seems to loom large. And though some progressives are bullish about their chances to take down Trump, his dominant showing in Nevada is clearly making the Clintons and their Democratic allies nervous.
About 300 Clinton supporters packed into a stiflingly hot community center in Alexandria Wednesday afternoon, waiting nearly an hour and a half for Bill Clinton as a thunderstorm raged outside. “I apologize for being late,” the former president said when he finally took the stage. “But for once in my life, it really wasn’t my fault! Mother Nature did it!”
Bolstered by the aggressive campaigning of Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe and a natural pro-establishment constituency in northern Virginia, Hillary Clinton holds a double-digit lead against Sanders in the state. But that lead has shrunk in recent weeks. And with just one week to go before Super Tuesday, a clutch of Clinton surrogates has descended on the state to staunch the bleeding.
Bill Clinton never mentioned Sanders by name. In fact, he barely referenced him even obliquely.
But Bill Clinton never mentioned Sanders by name. In fact, he barely referenced him even obliquely. Instead, he immediately and repeatedly trained his fire on Donald Trump. “I was looking at the results of the Republican primary in Nevada last night,” he told the crowd. “I heard that line again, ‘We’re going to make America great again.’ . . . America never stopped being great. What we need to do is make America whole again, so it works for everybody!”
“Hillary says, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t want to build any walls,’” Clinton continued. “I want to build ladders of opportunity!” The former president struck Trump several more times in his speech, decrying his “appalling anti-Muslim rhetoric” and saying that “we don’t need a wall on the Rio Grande River.”
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Gerry Connolly, the Virginia congressman tasked with introducing Clinton, also seemed fixated on Trump. “I wish that I could run as easily as somebody I won’t name — Donald Trump,” he said, well before he mentioned Sanders. Connolly mocked Trump’s immigration platform. “You know, ‘We’re going to build a wall, and whose going to pay for it? Mexico!’” he said.
“Now I suppose in contrast to that kind of dynamic platform, tried-and-true policy papers, experience, putting together programs and coalitions that work, [all that] may look a little mundane,” the congressman continued. “But when the dust settles and we all start to evaluate what our choices are in November, this is serious business.”
#share#Sanders has said that he welcomes a one-on-one fight with Donald Trump, a sentiment echoed by many Democrats, who assume that the real-estate mogul’s extreme positions will make him an easy target for their nominee. One or two Democrats at Wednesday’s rally echoed that notion. “I think it’s fine, I think it’s great, because I think Hillary will beat him,” says Alexandria native Kristen Race, who calls Trump’s rapid rise to the nomination “the best-case scenario.”
‘Everything’s coming up Trump – we need to take this seriously!’
But the Clinton campaign itself seems suddenly anxious over the Trump phenomenon. “Everything’s coming up Trump — we need to take this seriously!” they wrote in the subject line of a fundraising e-mail sent late on Wednesday evening.
Most Clinton Democrats at the rally agreed and are nervously eyeing Trump’s dominance over his Republican rivals. “A couple of months ago, I would’ve said, ‘Okay, that would be our best possible strategy, that Trump would win, Hillary would beat him,’” says Kathy Michaelman, of Fairfax, Va. “But the way I see people voting and the support that he’s getting — when he alienates a group, the next day his numbers go up, when you think it would make them go down — that’s what worries me.”
#related#“You have to trust the electorate, and I don’t,” says Peter Michaelman. “There are a lot of people who are just angry at politics in general, and they say, ‘You know, let’s try something different.’”
Alexandria native Janet Brandenstein worries that Trump’s support could grow — or even increase — in a national race against Clinton. “Actually, I think people are crazy enough right now that [a Trump win] could go against us, too,” she says.
“I think it’s a very dangerous thing to wish for something that you think might be disastrous for the other party,” says A. K. Minnick, also from Alexandria. “I know a lot of Democrats are thinking [Trump] will be an easy target. I don’t necessarily think so.”
— Brendan Bordelon is a political reporter with National Review Online.