POLITICS AS UN-USUAL: The Inland Empire in the Eye of the Political Storm

POLITICS AS UN-USUAL: The Inland Empire in the Eye of the Political Storm
Protestors outside Hillary Clinton rally at UC Riverside leading up to the 2016 Presidential Primary

Photos by Patrick Edgett

The Inland Empire in the Eye of the Political Storm

S. E. Williams

The 2016 political season has unfolded in the most unusual way. Few things so far have unfolded as predicted; a number of events were unexpected and still remain unprecedented. 

For example, the Inland Empire found itself in the political spotlight recently when it was visited by not just one top-tiered presidential candidate; but two— another strong indication the 2016 presidential campaign season will truly be one for the history books. 

Presidential visits to the Inland Empire are not at all an aberration. Over the years nearly a dozen presidents have made their way to the inland region beginning with President Benjamin Harrison in 1891 and ending with President George W. Bush in 2003. However, such visits were never during the heat of a hotly contested presidential primary–hardly anything about the campaign has unfolded as predicted. 

The national press and Democratic party bosses identified Hillary Clinton as the presumptive nominee before the campaign started. In addition, she accumulated a large majority of super/unpledged delegates (555) many before her challenger Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, had even entered the race. To date, out of a net total of 715 such delegates, only 39 have pledged support to Sanders; however, he is determined to stay in the race until every primary voter in the nation has had an opportunity to weigh in. He has also pledged to fight on to the Democratic Convention being held in Philadelphia in late July.

The race for the Democratic nomination is not only competitive, it has at times been contentious and filled with acrimony. There is no question Sanders, an Independent who describes himself as a democratic-socialist and whose campaign is funded by millions of small donors, is fighting an uphill battle for the democratic nomination. However, although Hillary Clinton is leading the race, even with all of her establishment support, big money donors and corporate sponsors–she has been unable to officially seal the deal. 

Clinton is leading Sanders in pledged delegates by 275 (1428 to Sanders’ 1153). Sanders acknowledges Clinton’s lead but is also quick to point out that neither he nor Clinton will arrive at the convention with enough pledged delegates to claim the nomination. The only way to reach the requisite 2382 delegates needed to secure the Democratic party nomination is with the support of super/unpledged delegates. Sanders is hoping a win in California will strengthen his argument for many of the unpledged delegates to switch their support to him. 

On June 7, California will allocate one of the largest pools of Democratic pledged delegates in the nation, 548. Both Clinton and Sanders hope to take home the lion’s share of them. 

Normally, by the time the Democratic Presidential Primary reaches California the race is pretty much decided; but this time is different. Sanders hopes to close the gap in order to make a case to super-delegates at the convention and/or to strengthen his ability to influence the party’s platform. While Clinton hopes a strong victory for her in California will finally slam the door on Sanders’ challenge. As a result, both candidates are all-in in California. 

Each one is looking for votes and eager to present themselves anywhere there are voters to influence—it gives new meaning to the old adage, every vote counts—even in the Inland Empire (I.E.). The region has never enjoyed the campaign attention received in places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange and San Diego Counties or even the Central Valley for that matter; but according to the Public Policy Institute of California, ten percent of the state’s likely voters live in the I. E. Riverside County tends to lean Republican and San Bernardino County is solidly Democratic. However, in a tight race, how that ten percent of probable voters cast their ballots can make a difference in regards to which Democratic candidate will leave the state with momentum.

Mark Maccaro, is the Tribal Chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians in Southern California, speaking at Hillary Clinton rally at UC Riverside

Mark Maccaro, is the Tribal Chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians in Southern California, speaking at Hillary Clinton rally at UC Riverside

Hillary Clinton rally held at UC Riverside

 Hillary Clinton rally held at UC Riverside

The I.E. does not have a large number of very rich campaign donors similar to what is found in places like Silicon Valley; nor does it boast the star power that exists in Hollywood where supporters also have deep pockets. What the Inland Empire does have beyond ten percent of the state’s likely voters is a very large and expanding Hispanic population, a growing logistics industry and one of the state’s largest sources of renewable wind energy. So it’s easy to see why, in this year’s competitive race, Democratic candidates have looked more inclusively to the inland region for support. 

On Tuesday, May 24 both candidates, the certain front-runner, Clinton and the optimistic challenger, Sanders both came to the Inland Empire in search of votes. Residents welcomed the candidates and the national attention. 

Clinton appeared before a large crowd at a rally at UC Riverside; while Sanders held two rallies on the same day to even larger crowds—the first at the Riverside Municipal Auditorium and the second at the National Orange Show Events Center in San Bernardino. Sanders also held a large rally in Cathedral City the following day. 

There was certainly something for each candidate to gain in the I.E. According to 2014 census data, nearly 47 percent of the residents in Riverside County are Hispanic and San Bernardino County is more than 50 percent Hispanic. Clinton has sustained a strong relationship with the Hispanic community throughout her political career, so in a tight race it makes sense for her to go where her natural constituents are to rally them in an attempt to secure their votes. 

Clinton is not the only candidate with a constituency to woo in the area. Sanders is making a strong bid for the minority vote and hopes to continue to over-perform with young voters. The I.E. is home to a number of colleges and a major university so it certainly made sense for Sanders to seek support from those populations. 

There are clear distinctions between Sanders and Clinton and to an extent, the party is loosely divided between those who are moderately progressive and those with a democratic-socialist-progressive bend. They see the world differently on issues like the minimum wage; the role of money in politics; how to manage the environment as it relates to climate change and the list goes on and on. However, regardless of the degrees to which they differ those differences pale in comparison to the Republican candidate’s ideology.

Mary DiFiore, of Perris, at Hillary Clinton rally held at UC Riverside

 Mary DiFiore, of Perris, at Hillary Clinton rally held at UC Riverside

Bernie Sanders supporter at Hillary Clinton rally held at UC Riverside

One of the things most important to voters this year is for candidates to understand and embrace the priorities of the people they seek to represent. Last Thursday, the USC Price School of Public Policy released a study recently conducted by The Field Poll on behalf of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute. It looked at issues democratic voters identified as most important to them. The issues identified included climate change, income inequality, college affordability, equal pay for women, ensuring clean air/water, and keeping the U.S. out of war. 

The priorities, reflective of the democratic platform, can easily be identified in the stump speeches of both Clinton and Sanders. However, although they agree on most issues there is a variance in how, if elected president, the candidates would act on these important priorities. The survey also examined the relative importance of these issues across the five major regions of California. The fifth region identified in the report was the Inland Empire. Some of the key points included in the report showed the terrorist threat/protecting the homeland, gun laws and reducing the deficit/size of government were among the most important issues to the I.E. voters surveyed. Voters in the Inland Empire were also more likely to cite immigration as a top presidential election issue. Inland Empire voters who consider immigration important are more likely to give higher priority to securing the border than to creating a pathway to citizenship which seems somewhat counterintuitive considering the large percentage of Hispanics in both Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. I.E. voters also attached a higher importance to expanding the Affordable Care Act than scaling back or repealing the law. 

This may be the first time candidates in the Democratic Presidential Primary made their way to the Inland Empire and personally asked voters for their support. Voters are hopeful San Bernardino and Riverside Counties will become a scheduled stop in future presidential campaigns.

Jesse Reyes of Riverside with his daughter prior to Hillary Clinton rally held at UC Riverside

Jesse Reyes of Riverside with his daughter prior to Hillary Clinton rally held at UC Riverside

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