Super Tuesday: Meet the Texans supporting Sanders

As Texas prepares to play a key role on Super Tuesday, we meet those going against the state’s conservative grain.

People hold signs in support of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, as he speaks during a campaign rally at the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie, Texas [AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin]
People hold signs in support of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, as he speaks during a campaign rally at the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie, Texas [AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin]

Canyon, Texas – Super Tuesday is the busiest day of the United States’ primary season, when more delegates to the US presidential nominating convention can be won than on any other single day in the primary calendar. And of all the states holding primaries on this day, Texas’ pot is the largest – with 155 Republican and 252 Democratic delegates up for grabs.

At Canyon’s West Texas A&M (WTAMU) University, students are getting ready for what should be a big day.

Matthew Vertefeuille, a 27-year-old student from nearby Amarillo, is supporting the Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.

“My number one issue is the same as Bernie’s,” he explains. “I think big money in politics is ruining the political process in the US.”

‘America is a socialist state’

This is the northernmost region of Texas, known as the Panhandle – and according to some estimates it is not just the most conservative part of the state, but the most conservative part of the nation.

Matthew Vertefeuille supports the Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders [Creede Newton/Al Jazeera]

The city of Hereford, 30 miles southwest of here, has been designated the most right-wing US city by nonpartisan group Crowdpac.

Some of the students joke about the fact that WTAMU has nine scholarships for students in rodeos, the classic cowboy sport.

Vertefeuille says that supporting Sanders in the Panhandle has seen him accused of being a “socialist” by more conservative friends.

“I ask them if they even know what a socialist is. America is a socialist nation. Social security and Medicare, these are all socialist programmes. People just don’t realise it.”

‘If you don’t think racism is a problem, you’ve never been to the Panhandle’

Benjamin Miller, a 29-year-old from Amarillo, says he is an independent because he doesn’t “subscribe to one political ideology.

“I’m very conservative on some things, and liberal on others,” he explains.

Miller is currently supporting John Kasich, Republican contender and governor of Ohio, who isn’t faring well in the polls. “There’s no way he’ll win, but to me he seems like the most decent candidate. It’s sad that that’s my main concern for who gets my political support,” he adds.

Benjamin Miller supports John Kasich, Republican contender and governor of Ohio [Creede Newton/Al Jazeera] 

Kasich is an establishment Republican, but Miller doesn’t view that as a bad thing. He says the rightward drift of the Republican party since the 1990s troubles him, and he’s particularly pained by the rise of Donald Trump, the current Republican frontrunner.

As far as policy is concerned, Miller says he is afraid for the future of the US. Interventionist wars have left him frustrated. “I don’t want to explain to my two children why America has invaded Syria, or any other country, with no good reason. I’m all for attacking ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant], but I can’t find them on a map.”

Both Miller and Vertefeuille are white Americans who admit that they can’t relate to the experiences of minorities in the US.

“I’ve been given every opportunity to succeed at anything I want, and I know that,” Miller says.

“But I recognise there is still racism in this country. If you don’t think racism is a problem, you’ve never been to the Texas Panhandle.”

‘Bringing undocumented workers out of the shadows’

In the Democratic contest, minority support is crucial. Hillary Clinton swept South Carolina’s primary, a state whose population is 27.8 percent black, with 73.5 percent of the vote.

In Texas, the question of Hispanic support comes into play. The state is 12.5 percent black and 38.6 percent Hispanic.

Sanders’ campaign director for North Texas is David Sanchez. For him, the deciding factor was Sanders’ support for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and comprehensive immigration reform.

“When you look at things like $15-an-hour, it goes a long way. It gives 60 percent of Latinos in the workforce a raise. This is a group that only controls 2.9 percent of the wealth in the US,” Sanchez says. “When a parent is working 60 to 80 hours a week to support their family, they don’t have time to see their family.”

Sanders has also promised to take executive action to provide a plan for the 11 million undocumented workers in the US. “He wants to bring people out of the shadows. These are family-first policies, and that’s really important to me,” Sanchez says.

The Iranian-American suppporting Sanders

Maral Khaghani, a 25-year-old Iranian-American, attended a Sanders rally in Dallas on Saturday. She tells Al Jazeera that while she doesn’t dislike Clinton, she is excited by the Vermont senator’s campaign.

Maral Khaghani, a 25-year-old Iranian-American, prefers Bernie Sanders [Creede Newton/Al Jazeera]

Concerning the US’ role in the Middle East, the first-generation American says she appreciates that Sanders “has always stated that he would choose diplomacy” over war.

“If you remember back in 2007, Clinton called then Senator Obama ‘naïve’ for wanting to sit down with Iran and have a diplomatic conversation [concerning its nuclear programme],” Khaghani says. “[S]he has stated multiple times that military action is an option [in dealing with Iran].”

Khaghani doesn’t want the US to enter “another never-ending war in the Middle East”.

Khaghani is a youth voter, a demographic in which Sanders trumps Clinton. She thinks that is because “he understands that the younger generation is sick and tired of the old political ways”.

Education is also on Khaghani’s mind. “I don’t know anyone who isn’t drowning in student debt,” she explains, and Sanders “has a plan to make sure every person, no matter your colour, no matter how rich your parents are, no matter your religion, has the opportunity to attend college”.

Will superdelegates sway the race?

Another issue that has irked Sanders’ supporters is the Democratic party’s use of “superdelegates” to choose their nominee. These are longtime party members who can pledge support for whichever candidate they please.

Eighty-five percent of delegates are chosen by voters, and determine the party’s nominee, but 15 percent are allocated by party officials.

Use of superdelegates began in the 1980s, after repeated Democratic losses in presidential elections. “It was absolutely a conscience decision that the party members made to award more say to the long-term members and party faithfuls,” explains Melinda Jackson, an associate professor of political science and research director for the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San José State University.

In order to win the nomination, 2,383 delegates are needed. Currently, Sanders has 85, with 18 being superdelegates. Clinton has 544 delegates, about 450 of whom are superdelegates. Polls show Clinton leading in all Super Tuesday states.

Jackson says that it is conceivable that superdelegates could sway the race, but she predicts that “Clinton will start to pull away from Sanders and lock up the nomination within the next month.

“Texas will be a big part of that,” she adds.

However, with the success of Trump, who recently retweeted a quote from World War II-era Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini, Jackson says that “all of the conventional wisdom on this years’ election has been thrown out the window”.

Follow Creede on Twitter: @creedenewton

Source: Al Jazeera


More from Features
Most Read