Minnesota DFLers gathered at their state convention Saturday set their sights squarely on Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, warning fellow DFLers that divisions among them could hurt their electoral prospects this fall.
Hundreds of DFL activists, party leaders and elected officials came together for the one-day convention at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. They remained deeply divided over the two front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination, as evidenced by some light heckling of speeches by Gov. Mark Dayton and other elected officials by supporters of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Sanders, of Vermont, handily beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Minnesota's March caucuses as well as in recent polls, though Clinton is nearly a lock to clinch the nomination.
"I know some of you are supporting Senator Bernie Sanders," Dayton said, after being interrupted by chants of "Bernie!" when he stated his support for Clinton. "I admire your passion and support of him."
Early on, delegates approved a nonbinding resolution that says the state DFL Party "supports the elimination or reform" of the "super delegates" system. The motion passed 552 to 480.
"We're hoping changes happen on the ground and that the people at the top listen," said Jimmy Tarpey, a 26-year-old Sanders delegate from St. Louis Park.
In recent weeks, party leaders had labored to ensure the convention unfolded smoothly and without unruly debate. Despite the boos during expressions of support for Clinton, the mood was generally respectful.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar paused briefly as Sanders supporters booed her when she said she was supporting Clinton. She pressed on when the boos died down: "Of course we have our differences, but in the end we have one job, and that is to make sure Donald Trump is not the next president of the United States."
Business at the convention dragged on at times, as delegates debated points of order and made motions. Other times, loud conversations made it difficult to hear speakers from the floor.
"Democracy is messy, but things are getting done that need to get done," said Melani Schwartz, a Sanders delegate and 25-year-old elementary school music teacher from St. Louis Park.
Schwartz said the strong showing by Sanders supporters should encourage DFLers and other Democrats to elect other office holders with strong progressive credentials. "I'm just hoping that if we can't get Sanders nominated, that we get people in office that are as progressive as the base," she said.
In speech after speech, DFL elected officials hammered at Trump, the billionaire businessman who has now garnered enough delegates to win the GOP nomination this summer.
The theme was not a coincidence, said DFL State Party Chairman Ken Martin.
'Anything can happen'
"Minnesota elected officials who lived through 1998 understand that anything can happen," Martin said, referring to former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura's election as Minnesota's governor.
"Every elected official, every political leader in this state knows that we cannot dismiss Donald Trump," Martin said. "There are certain parts of this state where he's going to perform really well in, and frankly, there are parts of our Democratic base that he's going to cut into."
Martin warned that prolonged disagreements over the two Democratic candidates could elevate Trump to the highest elected office in the United States. He said a Trump presidency could imperil Democratic achievements made in the past decades.
"President. Donald. Trump" are "three words" that could become reality, warned Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges in her speech, which opened the convention.
During a short lunch break, delegates worried that appeals by DFL Party leaders may not be heeded by some. "They're using the word 'unity,' but it doesn't necessarily mean it'll sink in," said Kelly Fontaine, a Clinton delegate from Prior Lake.
Fontaine, a group fitness instructor, and fellow delegate Warren Erickson, 67, said they were concerned that divisions among DFLers could hurt voter turnout.
Erickson, a Sanders supporter, said it would be unfortunate if people sat out the election because their preferred candidate didn't win the nomination. "That's something that they have to realize," he said. "If you don't show up at the polls, look at the alternative."
Also Saturday, DFLers elected four members to the Democratic National Committee and 27 delegates to the national convention — 10 of them from among party leaders and elected officials, and 17 at-large. They also elected six alternates.
Since there are no statewide offices up for election this year, the focus was primarily on the election of delegates, as well as changes to the party's platform and constitution.