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Convincing Colorado Students That Clinton Can Keep The Fire 'Berning'

Ann Marie Awad
Annalese Cole-Weiss says despite her "Feel The Bern" t-shirt, she's excited to volunteer for the Clinton campaign.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was a live wire for college students during primary season – especially in Colorado. Sanders won the state’s Democratic caucus in March. But the party’s candidate is Hillary Clinton. That’s what brought Jack Califano to the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

“Barry. Barack. You know, the best,” Califano jokes. “Barack Obama started as a community organizer in Chicago. He was you guys.”

Califano was making a pitch to a room full of young Democrats at CSU. He is a staffer for Clinton’s campaign. The room in the Lory Student Center is packed. On the wall are Clinton’s campaign signs that say “stronger together.” Next to them are ones that read “Bernie 2016.” More than a few people in the audience are feeling the Bern. And Califano is trying to win them over.

Credit Ann Marie Awad / KUNC
Clinton's campaign brought signs for Hillary herself, Rep. Jared Polis, Sen. Michael Bennett, D-Colo., and even former Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

“Are you guys all excited? Are you very pumped?” he asks. “Are we all excited to kick some ass this November?”

The room erupts in cheers.

With all his enthusiasm, you may not guess that just months ago Califano was working for the Sanders campaign in New York, and later California.

“You know, I joined the Bernie campaign because I have a deep belief in social justice and ending systemic oppression in this country, and I think I realized that even if Hillary isn’t the perfect candidate, the kind of existential threat that Donald Trump poses to women, queer people and people of color is so great and so staggering, that to stand by and do nothing would be really untrue to the values that got me involved in the Bernie campaign in the first place,” he says.

He even gave them a carrot and a stick, register more voters than University of Colorado Boulder, and Sanders may come speak at CSU instead. That’s a big promise for young liberals in Larimer County, where Sanders won two-thirds of the vote back in March. But even with that win, the primary winners were Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Trump. And both are struggling to live up to Sanders’ political revolution.

“I don’t even know, I can’t even explain the sadness that comes from not being able to vote for Bernie, something that I like really support,” says Bronson Torres, a freshman at CSU. “And having to - no matter what the selection, even with a third party - having to compromise what I really feel for, or what I really feel - who I really want to support.”

Torres is still not sure about volunteering for Clinton. But fellow freshman Annalese Cole-Weiss is sold. Despite the fact that she’s wearing a “Feel the Bern” shirt, with an illustration of Sanders’ wild hair and square glasses.

“They are stronger together. And I think that’s really important for people,” she says. “I think the ‘Bernie or Bust’ movement is a little bit mislead, because we all love Bernie but putting your efforts towards someone that cares about the same things that he does - and yeah it’s not him, but like - Hillary’s awesome too, and I’m going to support her no matter what.”

After it was clear Sanders wouldn’t win the party’s nomination, Alexandra Simon wasn’t sure what to do. For a while, she considered a third party vote. But, she says she made up her mind in July, after watching the Democratic National Convention. She now volunteers for the Clinton campaign.

Credit Ann Marie Awad / KUNC
Jack Califano, who works in campus outreach for Hillary Clinton's campaign in Colorado, appeals to a room full of college Democrats.

“I will always be a Bernie supporter, but Hillary is doing a great job of implementing some of a lot of Bernie’s ideas,” she says. “May not be as drastic as Bernie supporters are into. But I think it’s a step in the right direction, and it’s a step in the right direction for the Democratic party especially in the years coming forward.”

And that’s the message that Clinton staffer Jack Califano is trying to get across in the critical few weeks left until the election. For him, the challenge has been harnessing the power of the Sanders revolution, for a comparatively unrevolutionary candidate.

“It’s hard to get inspired by saving what we already have, but we have just as much to lose facing Donald Trump as we did have to gain working for Bernie Sanders,” he says. “And I think students are starting to see that.”

Ann Marie Awad's journalistic career has seen her zigzag around the United States, finally landing on Colorado. Before she trekked to this neck of the woods, she was a reporter and Morning Edition host for WRKF in Baton Rouge, Louisiana's capitol. In a former life, she was a reporter in New York City. Originally, she's from Buffalo, so she'll be the judge of whether or not your chicken wings are up to snuff, thank you very much.
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