When Mock Convention nominated Bernie Sanders, his campaign said he couldn’t answer the call

Mock Convention representatives say a campaign spokesman asked about the political views of the audience


This photo, from Mock Convention 2020, shows students celebrating after announcing Mock Convention’s nomination of Sen. Bernie Sanders as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in 2020. A similar process will happen for the GOP presidential nominee this year. Photo by Lilah Kimble

Emma Derr

When Mock Convention nominated Sen. Bernie Sanders as the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, his campaign’s Iowa state director accepted it over the phone on his behalf. 

But two Mock Convention representatives say that a spokesman for Sanders’ campaign asked about the political views of the audience before he said the senator wasn’t available to accept the nomination himself.

Annie Lentz, ‘20, the director of communications for Mock Convention 2020, said she gave the Sanders campaign’s Digital Communications Director Josh Miller-Lewis the “elevator pitch” of how the convention operates. She also told Miller-Lewis that nearly 2,000 people were sitting in the audience and more than 10,000 people were watching the livestream. 

“He then asked about the political makeup of the audience,” Lentz said. “I replied that Mock Con was a nonpartisan organization, and we had an audience that was super excited to hear from the candidate.” 

Miller-Lewis and other Sanders campaign representatives did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Mock Convention Political Chair John Harashinski, ‘20, and Press Secretary Emily Hershgordon, ‘20, were also on the phone call with Lentz and Miller-Lewis. 

“He then asked, ‘Would I be correct in assuming there are not a lot of Democratic Socialists in the audience?’ and I answered similar to before that there were voters in the audience interested in hearing from the senator,” Lentz said. “He said he would let us know if the senator was available.”

Before the political team went onstage during the convention on Saturday, Feb. 15 to announce the first round of nomination results, Miller-Lewis told Harashinski around 5:30 p.m. that Sanders would not be able to call in due to his travel schedule. 

“I do think it was a missed opportunity for the senator since we had an audience that was excited and engaged in the political process,” Harashinski said.

Harashinski said the Mock Convention tradition of nominated candidates calling in began in 1908 when presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan visited the university and students hosted a replica of the Democratic Convention, accurately predicting Bryan as the Democratic nominee. 

Lentz said one roadblock to continuing this in 2020 was that she found that Washington and Lee students have fewer connections to Democratic Party members. 

“Last year, the 2016 process was 100 percent different,” she said. “We had connections to Trump and could reach him directly.”

Lentz said the Mock Convention team started gathering campaign contacts in December 2019 to prepare for the weekend of the convention. But because the political team didn’t settle on its final prediction until Friday night, Feb. 14, Lentz said, the process of setting up the call took longer than usual. 

Taylor Garcia, ‘22, said she thought the response from the Sanders campaign rubbed audience members on both sides of the aisle the wrong way.

“I think it’s not only disappointing that Bernie didn’t accept the nomination, but that his expectation was for our school to be all [Democratic Socialists],” Garcia said.

Emma Ernst, ‘20, the Florida state chair for Mock Convention, agreed that the Sanders campaign’s response was disappointing.

“I wish the senator had realized our prediction is a reflection of objective, thorough and high-quality research rather than partisan, or lack thereof, opinion,” Ernst said. “Washington and Lee students should continue to engage in democratic deliberation with all people, despite this disappointment.”

Audrey Blumenstock, ‘22, said she worries that it indicates a broader partisan trend.

“It’s possible that the U.S. may have two candidates in November that are not willing to welcome those who do not agree with them,” Blumenstock said. “In the end, I believe that candidates and leaders like this will reinforce voters distaste for the primary system.”

Lentz said that the Mock Convention team is still eager to engage with the Sanders campaign as they continue to publicize the prediction.