A Sixth Street rivalry on the biggest political stage

Marianne Williamson, a middle-aged woman, wears a purple jacket and holds up a microphone as she speaks. Steve Bullock, a middle-aged man, wears a blue shirt and black suit jacket.
Marianne Williamson and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, both former Claremont Colleges students, are pursuing long-shot bids for the Democratic presidential nomination. Both failed to qualify for the third debate on Sept. 12 but are staying in the race for now. (Courtesy: Marc Nozell and Gage Skidmore)

Curious viewers tuning into the Democratic presidential primary debates this summer could quickly identify household names, like former Vice President Joe Biden and 2016’s left-wing darling Sen. Bernie Sanders.

But who was the woman with the 1940s Mid-Atlantic accent, warning of the Trump administration’s “dark psychic force?” And who, among the throng of Gen X white men running for president, was that guy from Montana going toe-to-toe with Sen. Elizabeth Warren?

None other than local products Marianne Williamson, who attended Pomona College, and Steve Bullock, a Claremont McKenna College graduate.

That’s right: Two of the 20 Democrats still vying for the chance to face off in the general election against President Donald Trump are former 5C students. TSL interviewed both candidates this week to get a sense of how they view their performances thus far, and whether they felt some college pride on stage against each other.

“The Sixth Street rivalry was definitely a real thing when I was at CMC,” Bullock told TSL. “And it was definitely an added bonus to rep my alma mater in a Sixth Street matchup against Ms. Williamson. I’ll let the students and faculty back at CMC decide how it went.”

Williamson, a spiritual leader and author who attended the Claremont Colleges nearly 20 years before Bullock, said she didn’t recall the rivalry named after the street separating the two schools.

Williamson was a Sagehen for just two years, from 1970 to 1972. She told TSL this spring that she left school intending to come back, but life took her elsewhere — specifically, to a geodesic dome in New Mexico.

The unorthodox candidate attracted enough donors and polled well enough to qualify for the first Democratic debate in June, where she instantly enthralled viewers with a promise to “harness love for political purposes” and a pledge that her first call as president would be to the New Zealand prime minister to say “girlfriend, you are so on.”

“I feel that I had a chance to say a few things that were heard,” Williamson said, reflecting on her debate performance. “Even though my delivery came across kind of silly at times, the substance of what I said was meaningful in both debates.”

Bullock, the governor of Montana, graduated from CMC in 1988. He visited campus this past spring, touring the school with his high school-aged daughter, and, in an interview with TSL, previewed the pitch he’d end up making on the campaign trail. As the Democratic governor of a Republican state, he said he has the ability to attract conservative voters.

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He entered the race late, though, and has yet to gain much traction. He missed the first debate in June and, though he qualified for the second one in July, didn’t see much of a polling bump.

Williamson and Bullock were both polling at just 0.8 percent as of Aug. 30 in a RealClearPolitics average of primary polling. 

They failed to qualify for the third primary debate in September, though Williamson said she’s reached 130,000 unique donors. Candidates need at least 130,000 donors and 2 percent in four primary polls approved by the Democratic National Committee to make it to the fourth debate in October.

Several candidates have dropped out in recent weeks after failing to qualify for the next debate, and Williamson and Bullock could follow their lead if they don’t gain ground in the coming weeks. 

Williamson said she didn’t know if she would stay in the race if she doesn’t qualify for the October debate.

“Right now I’m in the race because I feel I have something important to say and because I feel there are those who hear me and agree with me,” Williamson said. “I am addressing things that I feel need to be addressed.”

Bullock declined to tell TSL how close he was to hitting the polling and donor thresholds, but pledged in a New York Times interview to stay in the race through the Iowa caucuses in February even if he doesn’t make the next debate.

“The qualification rules set by the DNC were well intentioned, but what they’ve done is turn this primary into a race for donors instead of a chance to talk to voters,” he told TSL. “Regardless of what happens, I will keep talking to voters to the issues that matter to them and we will break through.”

Clare Burgess CM ’20 worked for Bullock in Montana last summer, and said she supports the governor because she thinks the country needs “a leader who will bring this country together. I know that Governor Bullock will fight for what he thinks is right.”

And of course, the shared college background “doesn’t hurt.”

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Kellen Browning

Kellen Browning PO '20 is a politics major from Davis, California. He's currently TSL's editor-at-large and previously served as the paper's editor-in-chief, managing editor and news editor.

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