At Hillary’s Victory Party: 'Bernie Had Bigger Rallies, but We Got More Votes’

Among 2,500 attendees at Times Square event, fears over Sanders’ popularity replaced with euphoria, cries of ‘Madame President!’

Hillary Clinton reacts on stage during an election night party in New York, April 19, 2016.
John Taggart, Bloomberg

The results of Tuesday’s New York primary revealed that even sparse attendance at campaign rallies, or not very lively crowds, do not necessarily foretell failure at the ballot box.

Even the victory celebration for Hillary Clinton never managed to turn into a real party. Clinton chose to hold a modest event, at a hall of the Sheraton Hotel in Times Square. The victory party didn’t attract enthusiastic students, photogenic hipsters or even colorful supporters in costume. In fact, when the doors opened, only a few dozen people were waiting in line to get in.

All this was in stark contrast to the energetic New York events run by Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, whose supporters were even willing to wait for hours in the cold. In addition, among the 2,500 people at Clinton’s celebration, held at the center of tourism in Manhattan, were tourists and other passersby who didn’t even vote in the primary – and some of whom don’t even support Hillary.

“I like them both, but I don’t like to see them fighting,” said Californian Alex Bechky, 69, who discovered the Clinton rally when he happened to walk by the hotel, and who is still not sure whom he will vote for in the June California primary. “Bernie speaks to my heart, but Hillary would be a better president, better than Obama was, because she would stand up to the Republicans,” he said.

Before the primary election results were announced, Clinton’s volunteers were obliged to work hard to make the crowd dance to the music from the loudspeakers. Among those present were a lot of Clinton fans – many of them women – who were less interested in the dancing and campaign slogans, but have been following her political career closely for decades and hope she will be the next president.

Cathy Haff, 63, from Brooklyn, came to the party with her wife, and just a few minutes before the results were announced she expressed a worried hope that Hillary would win. “I believe she will be president, she has to be, the world needs her. I’m from Canada originally, so I understand the impact of the United States on the rest of the world. The president has to think about the rest of the world, as well as the United States, and when she was secretary of state she was brilliant, one of the best we ever had. We don’t want someone who is going to spend the first two years learning how to do it, and that’s what Sanders is all about. She’s got the knowledge, she’s got the experience, and it’s time we got a woman president.”

Kara Manning, 43, came to the event from her nearby home. “I thought it would be nice to see something historic like the New York primaries won by a woman who could potentially be our first female president. Interestingly, Donald Trump votes at the same synagogue, Central Synagogue in Midtown, and as I arrived, he arrived. It felt particularly triumphant voting for Hillary at that moment, knowing that Trump was also there, voting for himself.

“I admire her,” Manning said, “I feel that over 20 years she has endured the smears of the GOP, and she has soldiered on, and she has become a force that the United States can be proud of. I don’t mind her being evolutionary, rather than revolutionary.”

Results come in

The boring wait to hear Hillary’s speech transformed into euphoria when the television networks announced her victory, and the crowd shouted out synchronized cries of “Hillary” and “Madame President.” When she took the stage, her supporters forgot that only a few minutes earlier they were worried about Sanders’ popularity. Clinton did not forget to mention her rival, who had decided in advance not to be in New York when the results came in, and when the polling places closed he took off back home to Vermont.

“It’s not enough to diagnose problems, you have to explain how you actually solve the problems,” Clinton told the cheering crowd.

Bernie Sanders waves to the crowd at Penn state University, April 19, 2016.
Mary Altaffer, AP

After the speech, while a few dozen supporters and tourists gathered around the podium to take selfies with the winner, Josh Futterman, a Clinton supporter who went around the city on Tuesday getting out the vote, said he always knew she would win, but had expected the margin of victory over Sanders to be closer than the 58%-42% result.

“I wasn’t nervous about Bernie’s rally at Washington Square Park [where 27,000 people showed up to support Sanders]. Obama also drew thousands to Washington Square Park before the 2008 primaries, and then Clinton won the primaries in New York. Yes, he did go on to become the president, but it was a much closer race,” said Futterman.

As for why Hillary has had such a hard time drawing great masses of enthusiastic supporters the way Sanders does, Futterman said she was not a natural politician. “The people who support her tend to have a more nuanced view, maybe they don’t go to rallies, but they go out and actually do something.”

He said he had been worried by the size of the Sanders rallies, but after he began drumming up votes in his neighborhood, Harlem, he stopped worrying. “When I started knocking on doors in Harlem, seven out of 10 told me they will be voting for Clinton,” he said.

“I was sure she would win,” added Alex Levy, a young lawyer who came to the victory party with friends. “I live right next to Washington Square Park, and I was not worried. It takes more than a rally to be president of the USA. The math is indisputable. She will be the Democratic nominee, and then she will be president.”