PHILADELPHIA — Sen. Bernie Sanders was notably absent from a gathering of left-leaning activists this week, potentially giving one of his rivals, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a chance to eat away at his liberal support base.
Netroots Nation, a conference held annually for more than a decade, offers an opportunity for presidential candidates to engage the most liberal bloc of the Democratic Party.
Sanders’ campaign said he was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict.
Some conference attendees said he risked ceding some of his support to Warren, who is slated to appear at a forum of 2020 candidates Saturday, while others argued it won’t make any difference.
Event organizers said more than 3,500 people registered to attend the conference.
Nina Turner, the national co-chairwoman of Sanders’ campaign, brushed off the candidate being absent, telling the Washington Examiner it is only one event of many.
“Progressives live all over the country and all of them are not here,” Turner said. “The majority of progressives are not here, so he is not ceding territory to anybody.”
Warren, who outpaced Sanders in last quarter’s fundraising, has been inching up in the polls since the first Democratic debate in June, when she appeared on stage the first night and Sanders the second. Netroots is the second event in several weeks that Warren will have a chance to appear in front of a large audience separate from Sanders to make her case to voters.
Joan Farkas, 53, said she would have liked to see how Sanders and Warren interacted on stage. The New Jersey resident said Warren tops her list of 2020 candidates, but Sanders comes in second. The Massachusetts senator, Farkas said, has more realistic policy proposals than Sanders.
“It would have been good for the two of them to be on the same stage to help people make their own minds up. I do think it’ll hurt him to not come here. I think this is usually where he gains a lot of his support,” she said. “It seems to me if you want progressive votes, you should come to Netroots.”
Beth Warms, 77, said she has unsubscribed from Sanders’ campaign emails and hopes he drops out of the race soon. She said she backed Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary, but this time she’s rooting for California Sen. Kamala Harris and Warren.
“I think his real core base, I’m even a little afraid they’ll do this time what they did last time. They’re very much for him. So no, I don’t think it’s taking away [support],” she said of Sanders not being there.
If Sanders is the nominee, Warms, who lives in Pennsylvania, said she will ultimately support him.
Mike Hersh, a Sanders supporter, said the Vermont senator skipping the event will have no effect on his potential to clinch the nomination because Hillary Clinton did not attend in 2015 and still went on to become the party’s nominee.
“In 2015, Bernie did go to Netroots. This woman, you may have heard of her, Hillary Clinton, did not. I guess it hurt her so much she went on to win the nomination and the popular vote. I don’t think it hurts too much,” the 58-year-old Maryland resident quipped.
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