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Merkley: Use Sanders' ideas to unite Democrats

Oregon senator, only one to endorse Vermont colleague, says GOP is no alternative.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley says that promoting some of Bernie Sanders’ policy ideas will help unite the Democratic Party behind the pending nomination of Hillary Clinton for president.

The Oregon Democrat, the only senator to endorse his Vermont colleague for president, said those issues include creating living-wage jobs, curbing college costs, coping with climate change and countering big-donor influence on political campaigns.

Merkley spoke Thursday with the Portland Tribune/Pamplin Media Group while Sanders met with President Barack Obama — who formally endorsed Clinton via video a few hours afterward — and Senate Democratic leaders Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer.

“To be successful, I think the Democratic Party has to be willing to take on the substantial issues we face in America and lay out a vision for solving them,” Merkley said.

“That is what Bernie’s campaign has done, in a fashion that has created a lot of energy and excitement. This is where good policy is also good politics — a bold vision for solving the problems people face.”

Sanders vowed to continue his campaign through the final primary June 14 in Washington, D.C.

But Clinton has clinched a majority of pledged delegates — and hundreds of the elected officials and party leaders known as “superdelegates,” who are free to vote as they want — to secure the nomination at the convention that opens July 25 in Philadelphia.

She won four of the final six state contests this week, including California and New Jersey.

Against Trump

Merkley said he himself had not yet talked with Sanders, who said he would meet Clinton soon to discuss how the party can thwart Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee.

“This (meeting) is the foundation for bringing together the two wings of the party,” Merkley said.

“This is what happened eight years ago with the Clinton and Obama campaigns. After it was clear we had a nominee, they sat down and started working out a strategy for the convention. In this case, a strategy will need to give significant air time to the ideas Bernie Sanders has put forward and mobilized millions of Americans.”

While Sanders has said he will work against Trump, some supporters have said they will not vote for Clinton — or might even support the New York billionaire.

But Merkley said most will eventually come around, just as Clinton backers in 2008 swung to Obama.

“When your candidate loses, you do not believe it at first, then you are angry and frustrated,” Merkley said. “Then you realize you have got to keep fighting for the principles that candidate represented.”

Merkley said he doubted Sanders supporters would switch to Trump.

“He has never woken up a day in his life thinking about how to make things work better for working people. He has been a self-promoting huckster,” he said. “It’s going to be important that the American people see through his salesmanship and make sure he never gets near the Oval Office.”

Party matters

Merkley said the sooner Democrats unite, the more they can focus on key races that could shift a majority of the Senate back to Democratic control.

“I think that capturing the grassroots enthusiasm that Bernie Sanders generated will make a big difference,” he said. “In a lot of close races, a mobilized excited grassroots is going to make a difference in who wins.”

Republicans must defend 24 seats this cycle, Democrats 10, including Oregon’s Ron Wyden, although national rating services list his seat as safe. Democrats must make a net gain of four or five to win control, depending on whether a Democrat is elected vice president.

Sanders is the Senate’s lone independent member, but caucuses with Democrats. A Democratic majority could give him — and Merkley — more influence in that chamber.

Merkley also said he hoped the Democratic convention would re-evaluate “superdelegates,” the category of elected officials and party leaders who are not bound by how Democrats vote in state primaries and caucuses.

“They were a way to encourage party leaders to make a trip to the national convention,” he said. “There must be other ways to do that.”

The category was created after the 1980 election as a counterweight to nominees, such as George McGovern in 1972, who swept primaries but lost big in general elections.

Oregon will have 74 delegates and five alternates to the 2016 Democratic convention.

Twenty delegates and the five alternates will be chosen at a statewide convention Saturday, June 18, in Portland; 41 delegates have been chosen at five congressional district meetings.

Of those totals, 36 delegates and three alternates are pledged to Sanders — unless he releases them — and 25 delegates and two alternates to Clinton. The figures are roughly proportionate to the candidate’s shares in Oregon’s May 17 primary.

The other 13 are unpledged superdelegates. Merkley and two Democratic National Committee officials support Sanders. Seven others, including Gov. Kate Brown, Sen. Wyden, and three of four House members, support Clinton. The others have not announced.

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