DFLers converging in Minneapolis on Saturday for their state convention are bracing for a spirited debate as they try to prevent the kind of clashes between supporters that upended a similar political gathering in Nevada.
The one-day convention comes as DFLers remain deeply divided over the two front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sen. Bernie Sanders handily beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Minnesota’s caucuses and in recent polls, though Clinton is nearly a lock to clinch the nomination.
Dale Sommers, a 66-year-old Clinton supporter from Northfield, said he expects that “some bruised feelings may last for a while.”
“It’s not that everyone is going to come together the Sunday morning after the convention,” Sommers said.
The splintering threatens to fracture unity for a party that holds a majority of the state’s congressional seats and all statewide elected offices and that has reliably backed the Democratic presidential candidate in every election going back more than 40 years.
“Usually, about this time of year when we have our state convention in presidential years, the nominating contest is already over,” said Ken Martin, the state DFL Party chairman. “The question of who our presidential nominee is going to be hasn’t necessarily been completely decided. Obviously, tensions are high.”
Martin must manage competing interests from Clinton and Sanders supporters to keep the convention from erupting into chaos and to help Democrats pivot their attention to the presumptive GOP nominee, billionaire businessman Donald Trump.
At Saturday’s state convention, DFLers will elect 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 will also elect six alternates.
Since there are no statewide offices up for election this year, the focus will be primarily on the election of delegates, as well as changes to the party’s platform and constitution.
Martin, a Clinton supporter, said that in recent weeks, he and other party leaders have labored to ensure that Minnesota’s convention unfolds smoothly and that it has an open and inclusive process.
Martin, party leaders and delegates alike said they hope to avoid clashes like those seen in Nevada, where the state convention devolved into chaos and recriminations of disenfranchisement by Sanders supporters over a rules dispute they said favored Clinton.
“It’s dangerous for party leaders to not embrace all of this new energy and excitement and new ideas,” Martin said. “For me, I think it would be irresponsible on the part of party leaders both in this state and nationally to not embrace supporters of either presidential candidate and the ideas that they are espousing.”
Call for unity
Delegates supporting Clinton and Sanders said they expect impassioned debate over issues enumerated in the platform, which lays out party principles on everything from union support to the environment and same-sex marriage. They also expect competitive races for delegates and electors.
The conventions are also a way for rank-and-file DFLers to have more influence in the party and the process.
“Sanders people are super energetic and revved up,” said Alexis Pennie, a 30-year-old urban planner from Minneapolis. “If they can make a good showing Saturday, they’d be pleased with that, because all those small efforts are going toward the larger effort.”
Pennie, a national delegate for Sanders, said the Vermont senator’s candidacy has encouraged young political newcomers who are now flexing their organizational muscle. “More recently, you have more young people taking on [party stalwarts] and successfully winning those spots,” Pennie said. As for Saturday, “it’ll be interesting to see how those things shake out because they could go either way.”
Jackie Craig, 44, is a Clinton supporter who said she expects environmental issues to be a point of debate. Heated arguments aren’t unusual within the DFL Party, she said, but she is urging civility, noting divisions among progressives that have lead to some “nasty rhetoric.”
Craig, who hopes to secure a position as an at-large delegate, added: “We are officially all on the same team because we want our state to do well.”
The protracted battle between Clinton and Sanders, who has vowed to press on to the national convention in July even if mathematically eliminated, has left many Democrats nationally worried that the fight is damaging the two candidates and sapping energy and money from the general election fight against Trump.
Saturday’s convention will include Sanders delegates who say they won’t be persuaded by appeals to join the Clinton cause.
Among them are Eric Skog, a 17-year-old high school junior from Eagan. Skog, a self-described pacifist, said he would be unwilling to support Clinton if she were the nominee. “I don’t think I could ever support for someone who voted for the Iraq war,” Skog said, referring to Clinton’s 2002 vote as a New York senator to authorize the Iraq invasion.
Skog, who comes from a family of party activists, said he likely would write in another candidate on the fall ballot. “People writing in on the ballot who they want to vote for wouldn’t affect the actual outcome, but it just shows how people feel. It’s part of the democracy — having your voice heard,” he said.
Defeating Trump a goal
Sommers, the Clinton supporter from Northfield, said he hopes that DFLers and other Democrats around the country can overcome their differences over which candidate they support.
Prolonged disagreement, Sommers said, would hurt the eventual Democratic nominee and give rise to Trump.
And while many say Trump’s low standing with women and minority groups would make it impossible for him to win the general election, Sommers points to the surprise victory by the former pro wrestler who went on to become Minnesota’s governor.
“One thing that Democrats in Minnesota have experienced was the Jesse Ventura election,” Sommers said. “We can’t afford to not unify.”