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For Sanders Supporters, Clinton's Historic Nomination Brings Mixed Emotions

A delegate holds a campaign sign in support of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Bloomberg via Getty Images
A delegate holds a campaign sign in support of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

On Tuesday as Hillary Clinton's was officially nominated as the first major party female presidential nominee, women (and yes, some men) all over the Wells Fargo Arena in Philadelphia danced, cried, embraced and howled with joy.

The Democratic National Convention erupted into a deafening celebration over a woman being thisclose to the presidency, 240 years after the U.S. was founded and nearly 100 years after women got the right to vote.

And it was a show of unity that put her over the top, as her once-bitter rival Bernie Sanders called for her nomination by acclamation.

But it wasn't all women who were rejoicing. Despite the Vermont senator's unequivocal endorsement of Clinton this week, many in the minority of his supporters continued pushing their candidate in spite of Clinton's win. During her acceptance speech Thursday night, scattered Sanders supporters clad in bright yellow, glow-in-the-dark shirts periodically chanted in protest and waved signs.

For some of the delegates still supporting Sanders, the historic moment inspired not ecstasy but conflicting feelings.

LaDawn Jones, a 36-year-old Georgia state representative, said it's exciting to elect a woman, but when it comes to Clinton being that women, she's ambivalent.

"It's historic, I have a daughter, I want her to be able to experience that. But for some reason, this election, that was not enough to make me a Hillary supporter," she said.

Jones learned about Sanders last fall, when she read his autobiography. She said she identifies with him because she sees both Sanders and herself as political "outsiders." And now that he has lost the nomination battle, she doesn't have as much enthusiasm for voting this fall.

"One hundred percent I will be voting for [Clinton] in November," Jones said. "It's going to take me until November 7 at 11:59 to really get excited about it, but I'm going to vote for her."

Clinton is very clearly making a gender-based appeal in this presidential election, leaning into her historic candidacy in a way she didn't in her failed bid eight years ago. This week's convention featured speeches from women House members and senators, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, a bevy of female celebrities, and the "Mothers of the Movement."

Her Tuesday live video appearance even referenced "breaking the glass ceiling," as her "entrance" featured her shattering a panel depicting the previous 44 presidents.

Clinton will surely carry the women's vote this fall — women have voted more Democratic in every presidential election since 1980, but this year could feature the widest gender gap in modern electoral history. That isn't necessarily because women are flocking to Hillary because of her gender; rather, many people (men and women alike) are voting for Clinton largely as a vote against polarizing GOP nominee Donald Trump. Similarly, she struggles to win over male voters from Trump.

While many Sanders supporters are unenthusiastic about Clinton, she is still set to win most of their votes. According to a new report from the Pew Research Center, 90 percent of people who consistently supported Sanders said they favored her over Trump in the election.

For those Sanders supporters Clinton hasn't won over, there is another female presidential candidate. Green Party nominee Jill Stein has actively pursued the Sanders supporters and shares their liberal views. And that's who Ryan Trundle, a shop foreman from Shreveport, La., will be voting for.

"Any woman would be awesome and amazing," he said, mentioning Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and former Ohio state senator Nina Turner, a prominent Sanders supporter, as examples. "This one, I would never vote for her," he said of Clinton.

Many other Sanders supporters think similarly — they champion women in government, but they say they can't support this woman.

"I support women at all levels of office, but I'm most interested in voting for women who represent my views and policies, which is why I supported Bernie Sanders," said Jessa Lewis, a delegate from Washington state.

Many delegates — Sanders and Clinton supporters alike — referred to their mothers or daughters or other women in their lives when talking about Clinton. And that means some Sanders supporters are experiencing the excitement, if only secondhand. They invoked the older generation of feminists when talking about Clinton's nomination.

"In my lifetime, I don't really remember a time when I didn't know I could be an astronaut. And even though there hadn't been a female president, I knew there could be. It wasn't a question of if, but when," said Sara Laird, a 37-year-old delegate from Gettysburg, Pa.

"But I realize it's a very different thing for my mom's generation," she continued, "and I celebrate the accomplishment and their fight that they've done for me and my daughters."

Laird declined to say how she would be voting in November. Washington state Sanders delegate Darin Brunstad also demurred, saying he would focus on down-ballot races. And though Sanders had lost, Brunstad said he appreciated how his mom must be feeling this week.

"I will say that my mother, who was very active in the early feminist movement, was a huge Hillary supporter," he said. "And I know how proud she is at this moment, and I am very happy for her."

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Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.