PHILADELPHIA: US Democrats scrambled on Sunday (Jul 24) to contain damaging revelations of an insider effort to hobble Bernie Sanders’s White House campaign that threatened an uneasy truce on the eve of the party’s convention.
Democrats converge on Monday on Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love”, to elevate Hillary Clinton as the party’s nominee who will battle Republican Donald Trump in 2016’s presidential election.
After a hard-fought primary campaign, the party had been heading to the Democratic National Convention far more unified than the Republicans, whose fissures were laid bare this week as they confirmed brash billionaire Trump as their flag-bearer.
“In Philadelphia we will offer a very different vision for our country,” Clinton pledged. “One that is about building bridges, not walls, embracing the diversity that makes our country great.”
Her quest received a boost Saturday when she introduced Tim Kaine of Virginia as her running mate, a savvy Spanish-speaking US senator with a bright smile but “a backbone of steel”, according to Clinton.
But even as the party basked in the lovefest that was the first Clinton-Kaine rally, there was a whiff of scandal that could badly rattle party unity.
A cache of leaked emails from Democratic Party leaders’ accounts includes at least two messages suggesting an insider effort to hobble the upstart Sanders campaign that had competed with Clinton – including by seeking to present him as an atheist to undermine him in highly religious states.
The Vermont senator on Sunday repeated calls for the resignation of the Democratic National Committee’s chairwoman, whose leadership was already under fire and whose impartiality was called into question by the leaks.
“Debbie Wasserman Schultz should not be chair of the DNC,” Sanders told ABC’s “This Week.” “And I think these emails reiterate that reason why she should not be chair.”
CNN reported on Sunday that party officials had decided Wasserman Schultz would not speak at or preside over the party’s four-day convention in a last-ditch bid to appease a furious Sanders camp. “She’s been quarantined,” it quoted a top Democrat said of Wasserman Schultz.
Sanders, along with First Lady Michelle Obama, is one of the headliners on day one of the Democratic convention which “gavels in” at 4pm (2000 GMT) Monday in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center.
Former president Bill Clinton is the star on Tuesday, while President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden take the stage Wednesday.
While Sanders has publicly endorsed his former rival, many of his most fervent supporters are organising protests in Philadelphia, with the largest expected on the convention’s opening day.
Several thousand protesters converged on the streets of Philadelphia near City Hall on Sunday, many of them Sanders supporters and people supporting renewable energy and anti-fracking efforts
Many in the Sanders camp have voiced disappointment with Clinton’s choice of a centre-left running mate, and the email revelations were only set to fuel the resentment.
Activists march through downtown before the start of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) on Jul 24, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
Clinton is “disingenuous, not real,” Laurie Cestnick, coordinator for the Occupy DNC Convention protest group, told AFP. “We’ve come to see that she’s part of a corrupt system.”
One of the incriminating emails appeared to show a top party official conspiring to present Sanders – who is Jewish – as an atheist in order to undermine him in particularly religious states.
“I think it’s outrageous, but it is not a great shock to me,” Sanders told CNN on Sunday. “I mean, there’s no question to my mind and I think no question to any objective observer’s mind that the DNC was supporting Hillary Clinton,” he said.
Trump pounced on the leaks as he tries to scoop up disaffected voters who feel Sanders – a self-described democratic socialist initially dismissed as a fringe candidate – was denied a fair shot at the nomination.
“Looks like the Bernie people will fight. If not, their BLOOD, SWEAT and TEARS was a total waste of time. Kaine stands for opposite!” Trump tweeted.
Sanders delegates were further frustrated when their efforts to end the party’s use of superdelegates – grandees who are free to vote for whomever they choose at the convention – mostly failed during a series of rules committee votes, according to The Washington Post.
But Sanders delegates won a compromise victory when the committee agreed to look at reducing the number of superdelegates in the nomination process, something Sanders has long demanded.
There was a decidedly anti-Hillary sentiment among the activists flocking Sunday into Philadelphia, where police were intensifying security operations. “Hillary is more of a warmonger than Trump!” yelled one woman as she passed out flyers.
But others in the city echoed Clinton’s message as she seeks to become the first female commander in chief, eight years after Obama made history as the nation’s first black president.
“We shouldn’t be fearful, we’re Americans,” delegate Patti Norkiewicz of Florida told AFP, two days after Trump offered a dark vision of a nation besieged by chaos and violence. “We should be proud, united, and we’re allowed to disagree,” she said.