All calm as Sanders, Clinton supporters gather in Florida
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- There's nothing like a common enemy to help Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters come together in harmony, as was the case Saturday as the Florida Democratic Party rallied against Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee who at one point was compared to an alligator running loose in a fast food restaurant.
Democrats backing each of the party's presidential candidates sat side-by-side with no drama, pleasantly chatting about issues and the election while the party chose its final delegates to the national convention in Philadelphia. While the nomination process has been increasingly caustic as many Sanders supporters elsewhere have railed against the Democratic Party establishment and complained the system is rigged, all was calm at the state party event.
Supports on both sides expressed hope that when a nominee is picked, the party will be united behind the choice.
"It really hurts me that there's been so much division in the party right now, because at the end of the day, I think we do share the same values and we need to celebrate that," said Sanders supporter Dawn Royston, 37, of Gainesville. "Everybody's been really calm and respectful to one another. We're all getting to know each other, trying to find common ground."
It also helps that they agree Trump would be the lesser choice for president.
"I know that we are going to stand united to defeat the bigoted billionaire, the bully that is Donald Trump," said state party Chairwoman Allison Tant as the delegate selection process began. "We all share this concern that he is in fact the most dangerous nominee for president we have ever faced and it is up to each and every one of us to stand up and fight back."
Trump continued to be a target at a dinner later Saturday by about 450 activists, where Sen. Bill Nelson, Congresswoman and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro took turns criticizing the real estate mogul and reality TV star.
Wasserman Schultz said Trump is a misogynist who's misguided on policy issues, including a statement that the United States won't default on its debt because it prints the money.
"You just cannot make this stuff up. Every day there is a new example of his knee-jerk recklessness, lack of judgment and unstable temperament," she said. "Keep Donald Trump out of the White House."
Nelson urged the activists to unite once the party chooses a nominee.
"The reward for unity is unbelievable for Florida Democrats," Nelson said. "Never in history in a campaign have we heard what kind of things Donald Trump is saying. Let me tell you, it is unsettling, it is seductive, and the consequences are disastrous."
And as contentious as the Democratic nomination process has been, Castro said the entire cycle has been "crazy" and took a humorous approach to the path that led to Trump becoming the likely nominee.
He recalled reading a story about a Florida man who threw a live 3˝-foot alligator through a Wendy's drive-thru window.
"If you think about it for a second, that's kind of what the Republican Party has done during 2016," he said. "Donald Trump is kind of like that alligator -- dangerous and he has no business where he is, and if we're not careful, he can hurt a lot of people."
The event was sort of a warm up for the party's largest annual fundraiser, which is scheduled next month in Hollywood and is expected to draw more than twice as many people.
"I was hoping for more enthusiasm," said Mitch Ceasar, the former Broward County Democratic Party chair. "There is excitement, but I would hope at this point it builds."