WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Infighting dogged the Democrats on Wednesday as Bernie Sanders’ campaign accused party leaders of bias against him and many Democrats urged Sanders to keep his supporters in check.
The tensions after a chaotic weekend convention in Nevada emerged as Republicans begin to rally around their own outsider presidential candidate, billionaire businessman Donald Trump, in the general election.
Trump, who has all but secured his party’s nomination, has turned his focus to November, outlining to Reuters on Tuesday proposals including scrapping financial regulation and the Paris climate accords. On Wednesday, he released a list of potential Supreme Court nominees.
More Democrats urged Sanders on Wednesday to take a stronger stand against his supporters’ uprising in Nevada over the delegate selection process. They said he did not go far enough in condemning the unrest, which included a thrown chair, yelling and threats to convention leaders.
“That was the time to have sent a full-throated message to his followers: that we don’t do this kind of thing,” U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said on CNN.
Democrat Barbara Boxer, the other U.S. senator from California, was at the Nevada convention and expressed her concern to Sanders in a phone call on Tuesday night.
“I feared for my safety and had a lot of security around me,” she said. “I’ve never had anything like this happen.”
Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, in a series of television interviews, accused Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, of bias against Sanders from the beginning and “throwing shade” on his campaign.
“There’s a tremendous amount of frustration out there and people want to have a fair process,” Weaver said on CNN.
Senior U.S. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada and Wasserman Schultz on Tuesdsay both also called on Sanders to do more to rein in his supporters.
Sanders had said he condemned violence and harassment against individuals but framed Nevada’s incident as a warning to Democratic leaders to treat his supporters with fairness.
The U.S. senator from Vermont is determined to fight on against front-runner Clinton in what has become a longer-than-expected and sometimes acrimonious battle. In contests on Tuesday, Clinton narrowly edged out Sanders in Kentucky, a state where she had not been expected to win. Sanders won Oregon, a state that played to his strengths.
Democrats are faced with a delicate balancing act as long as Sanders remains in the race, needing to pivot toward Trump without taking Clinton’s nomination for granted and alienating passionate backers of Sanders.
Sparring between the Sanders camp and the Democratic Party leaders over the Nevada events threatened party unity before the Democrats’ national convention in July in Philadelphia.
“Unaddressed, the toxic relationship between DNC @ @SenSanders campaign, so evident last night, could cast dark cloud over Philly convention,” David Axelrod, a former top strategist for President Barack Obama, said on Twitter.
Despite having an almost unassailable lead in the number of delegates needed to clinch the Democratic nomination, and with the primary battle heading toward the final contests next month, Clinton will need Sanders supporters on her side in the general election.
According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos survey, what played out in Nevada is just a glimpse into the uphill battle Clinton faces in courting them.
If Clinton wins the nomination, for every six Democrats who support Sanders, one will switch their allegiance to Trump in the general election and two say they would not support either candidate. Only three of every six say they would support Clinton as the party’s nominee.
Sanders’ campaign has long accused party leaders of favoring Clinton, a former U.S. senator and secretary of state, for the presidential nomination in the face of his unexpectedly strong primary challenge.
On Saturday, his supporters in Nevada became angry at the delegate selection process, booing, yelling and hurling insults, and at least one chair, toward the convention leaders.
Nevada Democratic Party chairwoman, Roberta Lange, said she and her family, including a 5-year-old grandson, have received death threats and numerous callers have disrupted her workplace.
On Wednesday, Lange said she wanted Sanders to acknowledge the threats, and apologize.
“His statement was pretty weak,” she said on CNN. “Until you say you’re sorry, until you say what happened in Nevada should not have happened and it was wrong and it was fueled by your senior campaign staff people, then that’s an apology and then I think there’s some responsibility is taken.”
Additional reporting by Alana Wise, Susan Heavey, Megan Cassella in Washington; Chris Kahn in New York; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis