Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Make a gift to NHPR and have a Valentine's message to a loved one read on air!

Nevada Incident Could Make It Difficult For Sanders' Supporters To Back Clinton


Let's hear now about the Democrats. Two primaries and an apparent split result - Bernie Sanders won in Oregon by a comfortable margin. Hillary Clinton declared victory in Kentucky with a laser thin lead over Sanders. But the race is still too close to call. Whatever the result there, the basic contours of the race have not changed. Clinton has a nearly insurmountable lead in delegates needed to win the nomination. And Sanders is not winning by big enough margins to catch up.

For Democrats, the real question now is whether the party can come back together once the primaries are over. As NPR's Tamara Keith reports, a war of words in Nevada could be making that harder.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The calls and text messages started coming in to Roberta Lange's cell phone shortly after the raucous Nevada Democratic Party convention on Saturday. And warning, they are profane.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You [expletive] stupid [expletive]. What the hell are you doing? You're a [expletive] corrupt [expletive].


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You're [expletive]. [Expletive] you, you [expletive].

KEITH: Lange is the state party chairwoman. And these are just some of the messages left on her voicemail, which, based on what they're saying, would appear to be Bernie Sanders supporters upset about how the Nevada Democratic convention went down. Lange's contact info was posted online and went viral. There were also threats.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: People like you should be hung in a public execution to show this world that we won't stand for this sort of corruption.

KEITH: The Nevada Democratic Party says Lange has gotten thousands of calls, emails, tweets and text messages. Jon Ralston, a Nevada political correspondent, was at the convention.

JON RALSTON: It was raucous from the word go because the Bernie Sanders supporters wanted it to be raucous.

KEITH: There were verbal fights over credentials and rules. And people who were there say there were physical skirmishes too. Sanders supporters say the process was unfair and rigged in favor of Hillary Clinton. The state party says the rules have been in place for years, and Sanders lost fair and square.

The delegate allocation to come out of the convention ultimately reflected the results of the caucuses back in February - 20 pledged delegates for Clinton, 15 for Sanders. Ralston says it's a convoluted process. And at one point, Sanders had made some headway toward collecting more delegates. But that was reversed over the weekend.

RALSTON: Could Sanders have picked up an extra few delegates if they had gotten their way? Yes. But that's all it would've meant.

KEITH: One of Sanders top Nevada supporters, Lucy Flores, who's running for Congress, put out a statement saying disagreements do not justify the vulgarity, harassment and vandalism. On pro-Sanders message boards, Flores was then called a traitor. And it is with this backdrop that Nevada's top elected Democrat Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid got on the phone with his fellow Senator Bernie Sanders to lay out what had happened at the convention, including the violence.


HARRY REID: I'm confident he will be saying something about it soon. This is a test of leadership, as we all know. And I'm hopeful and very confident that Senator Sanders will do the right thing.

KEITH: But when Sanders did put out written statement, the focus was on his concerns with the Democratic Party, saying at the state convention, party leaders prevented a fair and transparent process. It wasn't until the third paragraph in that Sanders added it goes without saying that he condemns violence and personal harassment.

Democratic Party leaders were not pleased. All the discord in Nevada raises the specter of a tumultuous Democratic convention in Philadelphia this summer. It also goes without saying that threatening and vulgar messages aren't representative of Sanders supporters as a whole. They just happen to be the loudest and most visible. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: May 20, 2016 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story stated that Bernie Sanders's supporters "threw chairs" during the convention. It is more accurate to say the chairs were brandished.