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Grand Rapids — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders barnstormed Michigan Thursday to urge his loyal supporters to rally behind Democrat Hillary Clinton for president, but he wouldn’t say marking the ballot for a third-party candidate would be a wasted vote.

In an interview before his fourth speech of the day, the self-described democratic socialist from Vermont declined to adopt the emerging talking point of some Democratic Party leaders that a vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein or Libertarian Gary Johnson would effectively help elect Republican Donald Trump.

“I don’t want to go there, because I have run as a third-party candidate myself in the state of Vermont,” Sanders told The Detroit News. “Historically, third parties have played a very important role in bringing out ideas that were ahead of their times, (that) the mainstream politicians adopt 20 years later. I don’t want to go that route.”

Instead, Sanders listed the government programs and progressive agenda Clinton would pursue if elected the nation’s 45th president: free tuition for middle-class students attending public universities and colleges; a hike in the minimum wage; pay equity for women; and an ambitious effort to rein in money in politics.

“I talked to her last week. She promised me that within the first 100 days of her administration, if she’s president, she’ll bring forth a constitutional amendment to overturn this disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision,” Sanders said. “That’s a big deal.”

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U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont talked about his efforts to get Hillary Clinton elected in an interview at Central High School in Grand Rapids. Chad Livengood, The Detroit News

After spending the primaries urging an all-out political revolt of Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment, Sanders has been assigned to get his followers to join the Clinton coalition and keep Trump out of the White House.

“I would hope people who are kind of … hesitating would take a look at what she’s proposing,” Sanders told The News.

This was the 75-year-old Vermont senator’s first visit to Michigan since topping Clinton in the state’s March 8 Democratic presidential primary, 49.8 percent to 48.2 percent.

At his first Thursday stop in Dearborn, Sanders rallied union supporters to vote for Clinton over Trump, who has made a big play for union and working-class voters with his criticism of U.S. free-trade deals.

“We need a strong labor movement to create a strong middle class,” Sanders said at UAW Local 600’s hall. “We are not going to let Trump and right-wing Republicans destroy the American labor movement.”

After Clinton won the primaries, he said the two campaigns came together to pass “the most progressive Democratic platform” in history.

“The day after Hillary Clinton is elected president, our job is to make sure that platform is implemented,” he said.

After his speech, Sanders met privately for about 15 to 20 minutes with 100 labor union members, said Bernie Ricke, president of UAW Local 600.

The senator held rallies in the liberal enclave of Ann Arbor and Michigan State University in East Lansing, where he sought to fire up younger voters who buoyed his presidential campaign in the primaries.

Clinton a hard sell

But enthusiasm for Clinton among voters Sanders energized in the primaries is mixed.

“I go with what our president said eight years ago about Clinton: She’ll do or say anything and do nothing,” said Amanda Robert of Milford, referencing Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign ad in the Democratic primary.

“That’s really how I feel about Hillary.”

Robert led a “honk and wave” for Stein outside of the UAW hall in Dearborn as Sanders spoke Thursday.

Lena Thompson of Detroit, a platform committee delegate for Sanders at the Democratic National Convention, said she is skeptical that Clinton would pursue a full repeal of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money influencing elections.

“Bernie talked about overturning Citizens United, and stopping billionaires from buying elections, and then he’s supporting Hillary Clinton who gets money from billionaires?” Thompson said. “That’s where the disconnect is. A lot of us are like, ‘Bernie, what the hell?’ ”

Fabia Faraj of Dearborn Heights, who attended the Sanders rally in Dearborn, said she plans to vote for Clinton at Sanders’ urging.

“I basically have no choice,” Faraj said. “I have to listen to my Bernie. He told me to trust him and I have to. That’s the only reason. If Bernie told me, ‘don’t vote for her,’ I wouldn’t.”

Some of Sanders’ most ardent supporters say it’s not enough for him to urge votes for Clinton to defeat Trump.

“It’s almost a slap in the face to say ‘Vote for me. Why? Because the other guy is horrible,’ ” said Kelly Collison, 28, of Bath Township.

Collison founded the “Michigan for Bernie” Facebook group that helped build a grassroots network of support for the Vermont senator last summer and fall — months before Sanders dispatched campaign staff to the state.

But she said she is not sold on Clinton and is siding with Stein — for now.

“She hasn’t been exactly exciting or appealing for people who are concerned about the military industrial complex that has brought us into tons of wars,” Collison said.

Swinging Clinton’s way

Clinton has been endorsed by the UAW, and UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada told the Dearborn rally in her introductory remarks that supporting the former secretary of state is critical.

Sanders’ supporters should not cast their ballots for Stein or Johnson, said Estrada, who was a Sanders’ delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

“How do we honor Bernie Sanders?” she said. “It’s not by voting for Jill Stein or any third-party candidate.”

LuAnne Kozma, the Michigan coordinator for the Stein campaign, said it was disappointing to hear such arguments since Sanders was a third-party person and knows the values of third parties.

“I think that more and more people who were for Bernie are for Jill, and we do hope that anyone who was considering Bernie Sanders would vote for Jill now,” Kozma said outside the rally. “The platform is so much better.”

Stan Komblevicz, 30, of Allen Park said he is a huge Sanders supporter who said he thought about voting third party, but has opted to vote for Clinton in November.

“I personally think we can’t afford Trump,” Komblevicz said after Sanders’ 35-minute rally in Dearborn. “I will do everything to keep him out.”

Hedieh Briggs, also a Sanders delegate, said she thinks the only way to continue Sanders’ “political revolution” is to vote for Clinton and try to ensure she adheres to the progressive Democratic Party platform Sanders helped shape.

“The alternative of having Donald Trump is going to be a huge, huge problem for the revolution we’re looking for,” she said. “So for me, it’s like a vote for Jill Stein is going to be a step closer to having Donald Trump. It’s a problem, but to each his own.”

clivengood@detroitnews.com

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