Dake Kang / AP
Saturday, July 23, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Democratic leaders are praying for unity as the party kicks off its four-day convention in the City of Brotherly Love next week.
They hope to distinguish their convention in Philadelphia from its Republican counterpart in Cleveland this week, where a number of prominent Republican officials were no-shows and a speech by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz revealed the party’s fractures when he declined to endorse Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and was booed off stage.
But it won’t come easy. A release of almost 20,000 emails from top Democratic party officials by the publishing platform WikiLeaks on Friday quickly reopened old campaign wounds in Nevada, and some Bernie Sanders supporters say they continue to feel slighted by Hillary Clinton’s campaign here.
The emails have generally reignited the refrain from the Sanders camp that the election process was rigged in Clinton’s favor.
“The WikiLeaks just confirms what my gut had said all along,” said Christine Kramar, a Sanders supporter from Nevada who sits on the Democratic platform committee. “You look at the memos, (national party chair) Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her little attitude about Bernie Sanders.”
One of the more notable emails from the leak suggests party officials wanted to make an issue of Sanders’ faith on the campaign trail. Other emails touched on the hard-fought battle between Clinton and Sanders here in Nevada, where the state Democratic convention ended in chaos.
Sanders supporters alleged the state convention had been rigged to favor Clinton. Sanders said that Democratic leadership “used its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place.”
The state party repeatedly pushed back on those assertions showing why it hadn’t. At the same time, state party Chairwoman Roberta Lange received numerous death threats and misogynistic messages via text and voicemail from those unhappy with her role as the convention’s chair.
In one of the leaked emails, Wasserman Schultz used choice words to talk about Sanders campaign Chairman Jeff Weaver after he made a television appearance defending the actions of Sanders supporters at the convention.
“Damn liar. Particularly scummy that he barely acknowledges the violent and threatening behavior that occurred,” Wasserman Schultz wrote.
In response to the email leak, Lange said the state party has moved forward from the events of the state Democratic convention.
“For us, it’s water under the bridge,” Lange said. “People that want to bring up the past. We’re moving forward.”
Sanders delegate Angie Morelli feels differently. Asked how the leak would change the mood at the convention, Morelli said she wasn’t sure.
“I know our delegation breakfasts are going to be a little awkward this week,” Morelli said.
More than that, there’s a lasting sense among some in the Sanders delegation that they’ve been slighted throughout the unification process for which the state party and the Clinton campaign have been pushing.
The most recent example Sanders supporters point to is a so-called “unity barbecue” hosted by longtime Clinton supporter Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani and Sanders delegate state Sen. Tick Segerblom last weekend. Members of the Sanders delegation were frustrated that they had only been given two day’s notice of the event, which also was attended by Sanders supporter turned Clinton surrogate Rep. Raul Grijalva from Arizona.
The campaign had left it up to Giunchigliani to reach out to the Clinton camp and Segerblom to reach out to the Sanders camp about the event. Segerblom said he took responsibility for not giving Sanders supporters more advance notice, saying it was his error and not an intentional oversight.
Still, Morelli said she felt like the Clinton campaign should’ve reached out to her and other Sanders supporters who have been organizing since before the county convention instead of going through Segerblom.
Multiple sources confirmed that two Sanders delegates attended the unity event, though Grijalva and a Clinton staffer later attended a meeting of the Sanders delegates at Sanders superdelegate Erin Bilbray’s house.
Kramar, who attended that meeting, said she was bothered that the Clinton staffer who accompanied Grijalva was from out of state and had only been working for the campaign a couple of weeks. She said it felt to her like it meant that the Sanders delegation isn’t a “high priority” for the campaign.
“If they were interested in genuine outreach, they would’ve sent their state director over to the meeting at Erin Bilbray’s house instead of a just-out-of-college person who moved here two weeks ago,” Kramar said.
The Sanders delegates say they continue to feel like they’re only a progressive box the Clinton campaign feels like it has to check off. The Clinton campaign, meanwhile, says it has been diligently reaching out to the Sanders camp in an effort to include them in the campaign.
“We have staff who have called delegates, reached out to folks, sent emails and invited folks to things,” said Clinton spokesman Miguel Ayala. “We will definitely, especially throughout the convention and afterwards, be reaching out more.”
The Clinton campaign also has hired several people who worked for the Sanders campaign, including one of his delegates, Ayala said.
“We definitely are eager to have them on the campaign,” Ayala said.
Looking toward Philadelphia, no one seems quite sure how unified Democrats will be going into the convention and coming out of it.
Sanders delegate Lucy Flores, a former state assemblywoman who recently made a congressional bid, said she’s still in contact with Sanders’ campaign and has been briefed on the senator’s plans to make sure Trump is not elected now that Sanders has endorsed Clinton. At the same time, she said she’s connected to the grass-roots Sanders supporters, who feel very divided.
She said there are some Sanders supporters who still hope he has a chance at the nomination, some who want to be disruptive and protest to bring about change in the Democratic party, and some who are ready to vote for Clinton to make sure Trump doesn’t become president.
Flores, Bilbray and Segerblom — all who have said they will support Clinton — said they feel some responsibility in being a bridge between Sanders and Clinton supporters.
“Sen. Sanders has said — and I’ve said it 1,000 times before, as well — Hillary even on her worst day is lightyears beyond what Trump is on his best day,” Flores said. “We just have to keep trying to remind people of that, but emphasize there will be accountability, there will be pressure, just as there has been throughout the entire campaign.”
Bilbray said she’s never seen a delegation “as strong and independent” as the Sanders delegation, which she was elected to lead. At the dinner at her house last weekend, Bilbray said that she made it clear that though she still will cast her superdelegate vote for Sanders, she will be there to encourage people to stay in the Democratic party and vote for Clinton.
“They’ve heard me say it over and over again: If we give up our seat at the table, we’re not getting it back,” Bilbray said.
Rep. Dina Titus, a longtime Clinton supporter and a superdelegate, said she thinks Democrats will show more unity than Republicans did at their convention.
“If you look at it, there are just a couple of people who are still trying to be rabble rousers, but by and large the delegation is united,” Titus said. “A lot of Bernie people showed up at that (unity) event and (Grijalva) was so eloquent in his speech about why we were coming together, why he was a Bernie supporter.”
Kramar, however, pushed back on the unity narrative.
“I think things are going to be tense,” Kramar said. “I think they’re trying to create a narrative of, ‘Oh look, the Republicans are dysfunctional, but the Democrats will fall in line.’ We’re not falling in line.”
However, she said that at the end of the day, she would most likely “hold (her) nose” and vote for Clinton over Trump, though she won’t volunteer or organize like she has in previous years.
Meanwhile, Morelli is holding out hope that Sanders still might have a chance at the convention.
“I really truly believe that these superdelegates are going to wake up on Monday morning and realize that this is a huge mistake,” Morelli said, adding that she thought there was a chance he could still win the nomination, despite having come out in support of Clinton. “I think he was pushed into a position where he had to do that. He hasn’t conceded yet.”