Supporters of Bernie Sanders’ failed presidential bid are seizing on Democratic disarray at the national level to launch a wave of challenges to Democratic Party leaders in the states.
The goal is to replace party officials in states where Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton during the acrimonious Democratic primary with more progressive leadership. But the challenges also represent a reckoning for state party leaders who, in many cases, tacitly supported Clinton’s bid.
“I think the Bernie people feel very strongly that they were abused, somehow neglected during the primary process and the conventions,” said Severin Beliveau, a former Maine Democratic Party chairman who supported Sanders in the primary. “In Maine, for instance, where Bernie got 70 percent of the caucus vote, they are emboldened and in effect want to try to replace [Maine Democratic Party chairman] Phil Bartlett, who supported Clinton.”
It only took one day after the presidential election for Maine state Rep. Diane Russell, an outspoken Sanders supporter who helped spearhead a push to change how the state allocates its superdelegates, to announce her plans to challenge Bartlett. Russell, whose superdelegate reform effort was sparked by frustration over the fact that a majority of Maine’s superdelegates backed Clinton despite Sanders’ dominance in the state’s caucuses, is positioning herself as a liberal alternative to Bartlett.
In the wreckage of Hillary Clinton’s unexpected loss, liberal lawmakers and advocacy groups have started plotting a major overhaul of the Democratic National Committee, with the aim of using the staid organization to reconnect the party with working-class voters it lost to President-elect Donald Trump.
Much of the talk since Tuesday’s election has focused on selecting a new chairman, with the most frequently mentioned successor being Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who backed the primary bid of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
In an interview, Sanders said he is lobbying for Ellison and argued that the DNC needs to be reoriented so that it becomes less of an insider’s club “preoccupied” with raising money and more of an advocate for the concerns of the working class.
“You can’t tell working people you’re on their side while at the same time you’re raising money from Wall Street and the billionaire class,” Sanders said. “The Democratic Party has to be focused on grass-roots America and not wealthy people attending cocktail parties.”
Sanders acknowledged the need for the party to continue its function as a fundraising vehicle, but suggested a model akin to his presidential campaign, which raised much of its money from small-dollar donors.
“Millions of people are willing to put in 20 bucks, 30 bucks, 50 bucks if there’s a party to believe in,” Sanders said.