It’s morning again in Rhode Island. At least that’s what it feels like to the progressive left the day after Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in the Ocean State’s presidential primary poll.
The socialist-leaning senator from Vermont all but conceded the nomination to the more conservative Clinton after losing four other states in the so-called Acela Primary. Last night even Bernie Sanders admitted he probably won’t be the next president. It was not a good night for those holding out hope he might pull closer in pledged delegates.
But by pulling off a convincing victory in Rhode Island, a state dominated by neoliberal leadership, Sanders sent a strong message that Rhode Islanders want progressive change. He won 55 to 43 percent.
He won 66,720 votes, Clinton got 52,493, Donald Trump got 39,059 and John Kasich took 14,929. The difference between Sanders and Clinton was greater than the difference between Clinton and Trump. The two Democrats got well more than twice as many votes as all three Republicans. Rhode Island seems very open to the idea of a progressive political revolution.
“I hear all the time, ‘…that is too liberal, we’ll get voted out if we do that,’” said progressive Providence Rep. Aaron Regunberg at the Sanders victory party last night. “That argument no longer holds any water.”
Sanders won 35 of 39 municipalities in Rhode Island. Clinton took Barrington and East Greenwich, the two most affluent suburbs in the state, and Central Falls and Pawtucket, very close to her campaign headquarters. Sanders took the rest rather convincingly.
Providence was close, with 51 to 47 percent for Sanders. But he won cities like Warwick, Cranston and Woonsocket by substantial margins. His key to victory was the rural vote – the Swamp Yankee Progressives. Sanders won in affluent liberal enclaves like South Kingstown (62%-37%) by similar margins that he won working class communities like Coventry (61%-36%).
Burrillville backed Sanders over Clinton 64 to 34 percent, but only 1,337 people voted in the Democratic primary compared to 2,167 in 2008. In the Republican primary, which Trump won with 73 percent of the vote, 1,261 people voted compared to 399 in 2008. More Burrillville residents voted for Clinton in 2008 than voted for a Democratic in 2016. There were three polling places open this year compared to four in 2008.
Burrillville was an important bellwether because of a controversial proposal for a fossil fuel power plant there. The Invenergy methane gas facility is backed by Governor Gina Raimondo and organized labor but opposed by residents and grassroots activists. Congressional climate champion Sheldon Whitehouse has tried to avoid taking a position.
This is a lot like the Clinton/Sanders divide in Rhode Island. Raimondo was a regular on the campaign trail for Clinton while Whitehouse called Clinton’s position on climate change “adequate” and didn’t really publicly stump for her. Whitehouse and Raimondo probably represent the range of local elected officials who backed Clinton, which also included Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and the entire congressional delegation.
I strongly suspect there’s a high correlation between Bernie voters and Burrillville power plant opposers. For liberal Democrats like Whitehouse, Sanders big win is an invitation to tack left on issues ranging like climate, economic and social justice. For neoliberal Democrats like Raimondo, who would rather reinvent Medicare than the energy grid, it’s a cautionary tale. Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton 55 to 43 percent. Raimondo did even worse than Clinton when she ran in the 2014 Democratic primary, winning only 42 percent of the vote.