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July 21, 2017

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Clinton vs. Sanders: Divided Nevada Democrats prepare for convention clash

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Carlos Osorio / AP

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., argue a point during a Democratic presidential primary debate at the University of Michigan-Flint on Sunday, March 6, 2016, in Flint, Mich.

The Nevada State Democratic Party is hoping for smooth sailing at its convention Saturday after a turbulent Clark County convention last month showed just how deep the rift runs between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Five thousand delegates and alternates from across the state are expected to converge at a Paris hotel ballroom early Saturday morning, where they will elect delegates to represent Nevada at the Democratic National Convention this summer in Philadelphia. Nevada will send 43 delegates to the convention.

Clinton won a decisive victory in the Nevada caucuses, but Sanders ended up with more delegates to the state convention after more of his supporters turned out to county conventions across the state last month.

Heading into Saturday, some delegates have already been allotted to each candidate, based on the result of the February caucuses. Twelve, however, will be decided by convention goers.

Seven at-large delegates will be divvied up based on the presidential preference of state convention goers. Five PLEO delegates — short for Party Leader and Elected Official delegates — will also be elected by state convention goers.

What all of that means is that turnout to the state convention is important for both campaigns. Clinton holds a significant lead over Sanders — particularly if you count superdelegates — but Sanders has vowed to continue his fight for the Democratic presidential nomination to the national convention.

Although Sanders supporters by far outnumbered Clinton supporters at the Clark County convention, Clinton’s Nevada campaign says that won’t be a problem on Saturday.

“I don’t foresee it being an issue this time,” said Michelle White, political director for the Clinton campaign in Nevada. “It’s like any campaign effort, like the caucus or any election day, to track folks, confirm them, confirm them again. We are not leaving any stone unturned.”

Though representatives from the Sanders campaign and some of their supporters had said that the Vermont senator “won Nevada” after the Clark County convention, White reiterated that wasn’t true and that the Clinton campaign’s goal was to protect their delegate lead headed into the state convention.

“We want to make sure the will of the people on caucus day stands,” White said. “That means having Hillary maintain the delegate lead in Nevada.”

She’s also hopeful that the state convention can help heal some of the divisions wrought between Clinton and Sanders supporters now that the Republican Party has an apparent nominee.

“The presumptive candidate on the GOP side is Donald Trump, and if that doesn’t frighten people and motivate them to come together and back Hillary — I certainly hope that we can unite as a party with our shared ideas,” White said.

The Sanders campaign did not respond to requests for comment as of 5 p.m. Thursday, but some Sanders supporters were raising concerns about Saturday’s convention on their own.

A group of Sanders supporters — who have called themselves “Nevada for Bernie” and “Clark County, Nevada for Bernie” at times — have been organizing since Sanders announced his candidacy last spring.

One of those supporters, Angie Morelli, started an online petition several weeks ago opposing some of the convention rules passed by the state party’s executive board and demanding changes. The petition now has about 1,500 signatures. Morelli says that though the state party has offered some of those rules to convention delegates, she and other Sanders supporters still have concerns about the way that business will be conducted on Saturday.

The group has started 10 separate petitions which they are circulating among convention delegates advocating a number of changes to the convention rules, which they consider unfair. They need to get 20 percent of the signatures of all convention delegates to make a motion to amend the convention rules.

The changes include allowing a refund of a $35 convention fee to people who didn’t know they could be exempted from paying it, allowing for a division of the house to verify any voice votes, and challenging the chair of the convention, currently the state party’s chairwoman, Roberta Lange, who the group doesn’t believe will be neutral in running the convention.

Morelli added that although she and other members of the group had received some encouragement from Clinton supporters, they have been cautious about who they have included in their plans.

“This isn’t Bernie’s people trying to swing the convention for Bernie Sanders. This is concerned Democrats trying to make sure we have a bit more of a fair situation at the state convention,” Morelli said. “We’re not going to sit by and allow them to do these shenanigans without being challenged at all.”

Morelli is also one of a handful of people who has sued the state Democratic Party to be allowed to run for one of the party’s leadership positions on Saturday. They allege in their lawsuit that the state party did not do enough to advise delegates about the correct deadline to file for party office, causing several people to miss the deadline and not be able to run for office.

The group’s lawyer Robert Kern, who also is one of the plaintiffs, said their motion for a preliminary injunction — which would allow the candidates to run for office on Saturday — will be heard this morning.

Besides the election of delegates and of the party’s leadership positions, the convention also will feature a number of speakers, including former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, who will speak on behalf of Sanders, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who will speak for Clinton, and Democratic candidates running for office.

The convention is scheduled to be called to order at 9 a.m. and is expected to last for most of the day on Saturday. Delegates can register in person from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. on Friday and 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Saturday.

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