Nevada unrest sparks Democratic concerns about convention, party chaos

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Chaos at last weekend’s Nevada Democratic convention fueled by Bernie Sanders supporters is sparking party concerns that the unrest could extend to the national convention and beyond – not to mention other state conventions – while casting a cloud over the nominating process at a time when Hillary Clinton is trying to pivot to November.

Sanders, while having virtually no path to victory at this stage, is vowing to fight it out with the Democratic presidential front-runner. His supporters’ passions have flared as he complains of a rigged primary process -- but Democratic officials charge Sanders, who has continued to rack up state wins, is not doing enough to ensure his people keep it civil.

The Nevada party said earlier this week that Sanders’ campaign is “failing to adequately denounce the threats of violence of his supporters."

It’s a charge Sanders denies. He told CBS News that for officials to suggest his campaign had anything to do with stoking violence “is an outrage.” His campaign went on to accuse Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of “working against” Sanders.

But those tensions threaten to linger as the candidates enter their final weeks of campaigning on the road to the big June 7 primaries, and the July convention. And there will be more state Democratic conventions along the way, including Florida’s and Mississippi’s on Saturday, followed by conventions in Vermont, Wyoming, Nebraska and other states.

On Wednesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., warned of a 1968 convention-style brawl in Philadelphia, the location of this year’s Democratic National Convention.

“It worries me a great deal,” Feinstein told CNN. “You know, I don’t want to go back to the ’68 convention because I worry about what it does to the electorate as a whole – and [Sanders] should, too.”

At the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, thousands of Vietnam War protesters clashed with Chicago police, Army troops, Illinois National Guardsmen and the Secret Service over the course of five days. The violence between law enforcement and the hybrid group of radicals and moderates who demanded Democratic Party leaders break with the past went down as one of the most chaotic conventions in modern history.

Iona College professor Jeanne Zaino predicted demonstrators are likely to show up in Philadelphia, too.

“Is it going to be 1968 Chicago? Probably not,” she said. “But it could be a much more raucous crowd and a much more raucous convention than anybody thought we’d ever see in Philadelphia this year. “

At the Nevada state convention, tensions rose quickly as Sanders’ supporters threw chairs, booed speakers and harassed the head of the state party. Several high-ranking national Democrats demanded Sanders denounce what took place and then accused him of not being genuine when he did.

Ironically, this comes as the rowdy Republican primary race essentially wraps up, with Donald Trump close to clinching the nomination and having knocked all his rivals out of the ring.

Zaino told’s “Strategy Room” that no one had predicted that the focus so late in election cycle would be on “chaos and violence on the Democratic side and yet that’s precisely where we are.”

“We’ve got a Republican Party that’s looking like it is increasingly more and more cohesive going into Cleveland and a Democratic Party that’s almost tearing itself apart from the inside,” Zaino said. “This has got to be a huge concern for the Clinton team. She desperately needs to pivot to the general election at this point … and yet they are unable to control Sanders.”

As far as the possibility of a repeat outbreak of unrest at upcoming state conventions, officials spoke to say they aren’t worried right now.

Mississippi Democratic spokeswoman Ouida Meruvia said while she’s been following the Nevada fallout, no additional security measures will be in place at Mississippi’s convention this weekend.

Officials in Florida, which is holding its state convention Saturday, said they aren’t anticipating any Nevada-like trouble.

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said it’s easy to see why Sanders supporters feel left out of the political loop. They’ve railed against everything from closed primaries (where independents can’t vote) to free-agent “superdelegates” to coin tosses used to pick local delegates in rare cases.

“[Sanders supporters] feel like the system is rigged,” Bonjean said. “I feel like in this way the Democrats have become the Republicans and the Republicans have become the Democrats.”

Bonjean believes fixing a fractured party should be on the top of the Democratic to-do list:

“The challenge for Hillary Clinton is to consolidate the Democratic Party. It’s a dilemma for Democrats going into the convention because you have an angry anti-establishment part of their party that wants to see Sanders in and I don’t think you’re going to be seeing any healing any time soon.”