Weeks ago, fears of a messy national convention were largely confined to the Republican side of the nomination process. There was talk of a contested convention where establishment-types and Donald Trump supporters would go to war, pressing delegates to support their preferred candidate. But over the weekend, it was Democrats who displayed that type of chaos at the Nevada state convention, in an episode illustrates the current state of the Democratic primary — one mired by allegations, mostly from Bernie Sanders supporters, of misdeeds and dirty tricks.
Yelling, booing, demands for a recount, and indignation that reportedly turned physical, dominated Nevada's Democratic state convention at the Paris Las Vegas Casino on Saturday. The meeting, which is the last in the state's three-step process to determine the final delegates to go onto the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July, resulted in a victory for Hillary Clinton, who will have the support of 20 Nevada delegates, compared with Sanders's 15.
Another eight Nevada superdelegates, who are not bound to any candidate and can switch allegiances at any time, will also go to the national convention. Four of them have publicly backed Clinton, while just one is supporting Sanders. The other three have remained mum about how they'll vote at the party's national convention.
Clinton's five-delegate lead had been predicted by pundits shortly after her 53-47 percent win over Sanders at Nevada's precinct-level caucuses on February 20. But Sanders scored a "surprise victory" in the second round in Nevada, winning the biggest share of delegates (55 percent) at the county convention. That outcome was largely thanks to the campaign's strong organizing efforts in the state, which saw more delegates for Sanders actually turn up to support their candidate than did potential Clinton candidates.
Close to 9,000 delegates were selected at the caucuses in February, but two month later in April, just over half of them showed up to the county convention. Sanders had 2,964 delegates, while Clinton only had 2,386. At the time, Sanders's state director, Joan Kato, triumphantly claimed "we pretty much won Nevada," according to the Las Vegas Sun.
But the reality (and the math) was more complicated. Because of Nevada's convoluted selection process, nearly 3,000 delegates chosen at the county convention were forced to whittle down their numbers at the state convention on Saturday to just 12 lucky delegates who will get to vote for their candidate at the national convention — seven were at-large delegates and five were party leaders and elected officials (PLEO) who pledged their votes. An additional 23 district-level delegates were already apportioned in February (13 to Clinton, 10 for Sanders) and remain pledged to those candidates.
For Sanders supporters who had hoped the outcome of the county convention would boost their candidate's standing at the state level meeting, the results of Saturday's state convention were a bitter disappointment.
To call the event disorderly would be an understatement. Even as preliminary results from the first state convention vote started coming in, Sanders supporters were already challenging the numbers. After several more rounds of contentious voting, Clinton won four at-large delegates to Sanders's three. She also won three PLEOs to Sanders's two.
Attendees began yelling "recount" as speakers took the stage and booed others, including US Senator Barbara Boxer, of California, who supports Clinton and called for party unity. At one point, a fight broke out, according to some attendees who tweeted about the incident. One Sanders supporter posted video of the uproar among delegates as preliminary vote totals showed Clinton leading.
Sanders supporters also took issue with the fact that 64 people had initially been denied the chance to vote because they had either failed to register as a Democrat by the party deadline of May 1, or their records could not be immediately verified. Eventually, six were granted delegate status, while 58 were excluded from the convention. Eight of those 64 delegates turned away on Saturday were Clinton supporters, the state party told the Sun.
The Nevada Democratic Party allowed same day-registration at the February caucuses, so independents and Republicans could register with their party and participate. That means some of those delegates who were excluded on Saturday would not have been able to caucus at their precincts for either Clinton or Sanders back in February. One spurned would-be delegate posted on Reddit that he or she "changed my registration from Democrat about three weeks ago when I went on a spur of disgust for the party" and could not understand party leaders barred him or her from being a delegate, according to the Daily Kos. (That Reddit post has since been deleted and the person's identity is unclear).
Yet, some Sanders supporters, believed they were wrongly denied a spot in the delegation. And those who were granted delegate credentials became even more irate after convention leaders refused to reconsider the 58 delegates who were turned away.
A day before the state convention began on Saturday, Sanders tried to soothe simmering tensions by calling for unity amid a larger battle against common enemy and Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump.
"Working together respectfully and constructively on Saturday at the Nevada Democratic convention will move us closer to those essential goals," Sanders said in a statement Friday.
Yet his calls went unheeded.
At around 10pm, the meeting was already running overtime and state party chairwoman Roberta Lange conducted a voice vote to conclude the convention and then left the hotel. Chaos, reportedly, ensued.
Here comes the motion to approve the rules and the place erupts. If this is what democracy is all about, maybe Trump isn— Jon Ralston (@RalstonReports) May 14, 2016
Some attendees claimed that the motion to end the convention was passed without an official count and before some people even had an opportunity to weigh in with their "yeas" and "nays." Later, unidentified people posted Lange's cellphone number to social media, in a practice known as "doxxing." She has allegedly since received hundreds of phone calls, including death threats, according to authorities. Other elected officials across the country, mostly superdelegates supporting Clinton, have similarly been doxxed over the course of the presidential election.
Even before the convention, some Sanders supporters were challenging Lange's position as convention chair, questioning her neutrality.
The state party said in a statement that at 10pm the hotel had told leaders at the convention that it could no longer provide security and asked them to finish up. So, Lange complied, the party said. "Recognizing the business still to be conducted by the convention, [Lange] accepted a motion to agree to the Party Leader and Elected Official (PLEO) and At-Large Delegate slates as submitted by the presidential campaigns," the statement said.
After the voice vote closed the convention on Saturday, a number of Sanders supporters refused to give up, remaining behind until security and police forced them to leave. At one point security switched the lights off to clear the room, which didn't work. Convention delegates hurled obscenities and, in some instances, chairs, according to Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston.
On Sunday, Sanders supporters marched on both the Democratic party's headquarters and the Bellagio Hotel in protest. Although the protests were billed as peaceful, some attendees tagged the locations to register their anger.
Here is how Bernie— Jon Ralston (@RalstonReports) May 15, 2016
In all, the events of Saturday were not unique. The Nevada county convention in April also fell into disorder after the county party's credentials chairperson Christine Kramar was suspended, following a challenge from the Clinton campaign questioning her neutrality. Kramar and others staged a sit-in at the convention hall and were nearly cited for trespassing, the Sun reported.
These ugly incidences set the scene for chaos at the much larger national party convention in Philadelphia, where some 50,000 delegates and attendees are expected to show up, according to party operatives.
They are also indicative of the emerging themes in the Democratic contest, especially from Sanders supporters, who have at numerous primaries and caucuses alleged that party leaders and others in the Democratic establishment have engaged in dishonest or voter suppression tactics in an effort to secure a Clinton nomination.
With the Republican primary now largely decided in Trump's favor, it appears that the chaos forecast for the GOP convention could actually show up in Philadelphia instead.
Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields