Young supporter makes reluctant transition to Clinton

INDIANAPOLIS — Krishna Pathak knows he won’t be casting his ballot in November for his political hero, Bernie Sanders, but he’ll still get a chance to vote for him for president in just a few weeks anyway.

Pathak, 18, will be Indiana’s youngest delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where he has pledged to support the 74-year-old senator from Vermont on the first ballot.

A devout Sanders supporter, Pathak was elected to represent fellow Indiana Democrats in Philly during the state convention here last month.

His vote for Sanders will be a symbolic gesture, to be sure.

Front-runner Hillary Clinton has scooped up enough delegates and super-delegates to lock up the party’s nomination for president.

No matter, Pathak said, his vote will affirm what he has come to believe: “Democracy isn’t all about getting what you want, it’s about making your voice heard.”

Back in early May, just before Sanders unexpectedly won Indiana’s Democratic primary, Pathak questioned whether he could ever support Clinton. He doubted that the former first lady, senator and secretary of state was too interested in overthrowing the political order, as Sanders had promised.

“I would not take a nanosecond out of my day to campaign for her,” Pathak, an Indiana University student, said at the time.

His stance has since softened, as political reality has set in. He’ll pack his favorite Bernie buttons and T-shirts for his Philadelphia trip — including one with the outline of Iowa that reads “The revolution starts here — but there will be no “Bernie or Bust” apparel in his suitcase.

“For a hot moment, I felt that way,” he conceded, noting the contingent of ardent Sanders supporters who still refuse to enlist in Clinton’s camp.

But for Pathak, son of working-class immigrants who arrived in the United States just before he was born, stopping Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant rhetoric is paramount.

He sympathizes with the True Bernie crowd but offers this advice: “Take a minute to pause and rationally consider a Trump presidency versus a Clinton presidency. At the end of the day, you’ve got to with your brain.”

Not all Sanders supporters so easily make the pivot. The senator, himself, only this week publicly endorsed Clinton’s candidacy.

A Bloomberg Politics poll of likely voters in mid-June found barely half of Sanders supporters, about 55 percent, plan to vote for Clinton.

Just over 20 percent said they’ll vote for Trump. Another 18 percent favor Libertarian Gary Johnson.

Pathak said he isn’t surprised by those results, given that so many Sanders supporters see Clinton as part of the establishment, and fundamentally corrupt.

He doubts that an endorsement by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, a Sanders sympathizer and formerly harsh critic of Clinton, will do much to ease their pain. The fervent anti-Clinton crowd, he said, just interprets that as a “sell-out” by Warren.

But Pathak said he thinks more Sanders supporters will eventually move over to the Clinton column. So, too, does one his favorite teachers, Indiana University public affairs professor Paul Helmke, who teaches a class on political protest and dissent.

On the Bloomington campus, Helmke said he’s witnessed the passion of students who embraced Sanders’ candidacy. Now, he said, they’re working their way through the stages of grief.

“It takes a while to finally get to acceptance,” he said.

For now, Pathak is focused on just getting to Philadelphia.

His summer job at a movie theater won’t cover the trip’s costs, so he’s forgoing a pricey convention hotel room in exchange for a cheap bed found through the online site Airbnb.

He’s raising money for food and gas through a GoFund Me account.

He’s also taking some advice from Helmke, who had this to say to Pathak and his fellow idealists: “In politics, more people lose than win. You’ve got to get back up and keep trying.”

Maureen Hayden is statehouse bureau chief for CNHI newspapers. Send comments to [email protected].