Senator Bernie Sanders may be trailing Hillary Clintonby hundreds of delegates, and Mrs. Clinton may be treating the Democratic nomination as hers, but Julie Crowell, a stay-at-home mother and a die-hard Sanders supporter, is holding out for an 11th-hour miracle: divine deliverance at the hands of the F.B.I.
Like many of Mr. Sanders’s supporters, Ms. Crowell, 37, said she hoped that Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state would eventually yield an indictment, and she described it as the kind of transgression that would disqualify another politician seeking high office.
“She should be removed,” said Ms. Crowell, of Tustin, Calif., who attended a Sanders rally here on Tuesday and said she planned to vote for a third-party candidate if Mr. Sanders failed to overtake Mrs. Clinton and capture the Democratic nomination. “I don’t know why she’s not already being told, ‘You can’t run because you’re being investigated.’ I don’t know how that’s not a thing.”
Campaigning in California, where polls show a tightening primary race, Mr. Sanders continued to hit Mrs. Clinton over her positions on Wall Street, trade deals, the minimum wage, hydrofracking and “super PACs” — seemingly everything except her emails, which he famously took off the table as an issue during an early Democratic debate. But Mrs. Clinton faces renewed criticism after an inspector general’s report faulted her for violating the State Department’s records-retention policy. And as the F.B.I. continues its investigation into the handling of classified information, attendees at Sanders rallies have repeatedly expressed hope that the scandal would result in criminal charges against Mrs. Clinton.
“If there’s any chance of her getting indicted, they shouldn’t even consider her for the nomination,” said Zachary O’Neill, 21, of Escondido. “We can’t have a criminal in the White House.”
And what would be a more colossal comeuppance to the Democratic establishment?
“We can’t go back and undo giving her the Democratic nomination,” said Jennifer Peters, 28, of Costa Mesa.
Ms. Peters added that if Mrs. Clinton had broken the law, she should be held accountable. “I’m hoping that the F.B.I. sends a strong message to people like her, as well as other people in politics who are using their position of power to manipulate the system for their own personal advancement,” Ms. Peters said. “She feels like she can do whatever she wants with absolute impunity, and that she somehow is above any type of repercussions.”
Polls show that an increasing number of Sanders supporters say they will not vote for Mrs. Clinton in November’s general election. It’s a position not unlike that held by many of her supporters in 2008 before they eventually rallied around Barack Obama. And while Mr. Sanders has said he will do all he can to defeat Donald J. Trump, the level of vitriol for Mrs. Clinton coursing through Mr. Sanders’s audiences lately — where “Bernie or Bust” signs are commonplace and the mention of his rival prompts boos or shouts of insults like “corporate puppet” — suggests that party unity might be even more difficult to achieve this time. Sanders supporters have also begun to protest at Mrs. Clinton’s events with signs that read, “Where are Hillary’s emails?”
Ms. Peters, who makes a living selling goods online, said that she would not vote for Mrs. Clinton under any circumstance — and that she would blame the Democratic Party for a Trump victory in November.
“If the D.N.C. wants to go ahead and put out the candidate who can’t win and we lose in November, it’s not because I didn’t vote,” she said. “It’s because they were looking out for their interests and not for the better interests of the country.”
Not everyone at Mr. Sanders’s rallies is dreading a Trump victory, however.
Victor Vizcarra, 48, of Los Angeles, said he would much prefer Mr. Trump to Mrs. Clinton. Though he said he disagreed with some of Mr. Trump’s policies, Mr. Vizcarra said he had watched “The Apprentice” and expected that a Trump presidency would be more exciting than a “boring” Clinton administration.
“A dark side of me wants to see what happens if Trump is in,” said Mr. Vizcarra, who works in information technology. “There is going to be some kind of change, and even if it’s like a Nazi-type change. People are so drama-filled. They want to see stuff like that happen. It’s like reality TV. You don’t want to just see everybody be happy with each other. You want to see someone fighting somebody.”
Jackie Becerra, 28, an executive assistant who lives in Lake Forest, also said she was leaning toward voting for Mr. Trump if Mr. Sanders was not the Democratic nominee. She said that she doubted Mr. Trump would keep his promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico, and that, even though his proposal to bar foreign Muslims from entering the United States made her “nervous,” she did not believe he could stop people from coming into the country based on their religion.
“Everyone is like: ‘Trump has these terrible social issues. He hates Muslims and he hates the L.G.B.T. community,’ ” she said. “But our world is big enough that he’s not actually going to implement any of those changes in a realistic way. But what he will do is potentially audit the federal government, and he will try to break up some of the banks and try to at least influence government that way. However, with Hillary, it will just be a complacent, run-of-the-middle-of-the-road presidency.”
Such thinking worries Pete Navarro, 65, a lawyer in Los Angeles who supports Mr. Sanders but said he planned to vote for Mrs. Clinton if she was the eventual Democratic nominee. “I think it’s a mistake to demonize Hillary Clinton,” he said. “I think that just serves Republican purposes. It’s chopping your nose off to spite your face.”
Yet the email investigation keeps coming up in conversations with Mr. Sanders’s supporters, who are all too aware of Mrs. Clinton’s delegate lead and increasingly desperate for an equalizer.
“If Bernie had 12 F.B.I. agents investigating him, the way Hillary has,” said Robert Jost, 50, of San Diego, “the entire establishment, the entire mainstream media, would every day be consistently saying he should drop out of the race.”