Nev. Democratic Party in upheaval after progressive takeover

FILE - In this Feb. 19, 2020, file photo former Sen. Harry Reid listens during an interview in Las Vegas. The state Democratic Party in Nevada has been built up by Reid and for years has been among the strongest state Democratic parties in the country. But that reputation took a hit this week after a slate of Sen. Bernie Sanders-aligned progressives backed by a local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America won the party's top leadership posts. (AP Photo/John Locher, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

LAS VEGAS – The state Democratic Party in Nevada has for years been among the strongest in country, buttressed by the state's powerful former senator, Harry Reid, and credited with helping Democrats chalk up wins in the swing state since 2016.

But that reputation took a hit this week after a slate of Sen. Bernie Sanders-aligned progressives backed by a local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America won the party's top leadership posts. The results prompted resignations of the party's staff and consultants.

Nevada political operatives say the progressive takeover could diminish the power of the state party and jeopardize a push to make the state the first presidential nominating contest in 2024, ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire.

The new state party chair, Judith Whitmer, said she was surprised by the resignations and denied allegations that she had first threatened to fire staff or had suggested that Democratic elected officials should face primary challenges from the left.

“The goal obviously is still to elect Democrats, that will always be our goal, but it’s also our goal to bring more progressives into the fold and bring those progressive voices into the party,” Whitmer told The Associated Press.

It's unlikely that Whitmer's leadership will weaken the broader, vaunted political “Reid Machine” or the 2022 reelection prospects of Nevada’s U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, three Democrats in the U.S. House and the state’s Democratic governor. It seems likely Reid and other establishment politicians may move to work outside the party structure to raise money, recruit candidates and run voter outreach.

The fissure, some Nevada Democrats say, dates back to the contentious 2016 presidential nominating contest between Hillary Clinton and Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist and independent, which touched off a larger ideological divide in the party between moderates and progressives.

In Nevada, Sanders lost the state’s third-in-line presidential caucuses in 2016, leaving some of his supporters frustrated by the party’s rules and leading to shouting at the state party’s convention and death threats to the party chair at the time.