Nevada’s Democratic Party Socialists Take Over State Party Leadership
After the Sanders campaign ended, organizers of left-wing progressive groups like Nevada’s Left Caucus and local Democratic Socialists chapters took over state party leadership. They hoped to leverage the group’s organizational power into an electoral presence.
But now the question is whether or not these folks will be able to deliver on their promises.
Who are they?
After Bernie Sanders lost Nevada’s caucuses to Hillary Clinton in 2016, the organizers who helped him win built a grassroots movement that took over local county Democratic parties. That led to the election of Judith Whitmer as chair of the state party and an infighting battle between the insurgent progressive wing and the so-called Reid Machine, the establishment group that controls the state’s Democratic machinery. On Saturday, Whitmer was defeated by Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno and a slate of Democrats backed by the state’s powerful Democratic Senator, Catherine Cortez Masto.
The victors included members of Democratic Socialists of America and other progressives who worked on Sanders’ campaign and vowed to make the state party more “accountable to the people” and revamp its get-out-the-vote efforts. The new leadership also transferred significant amounts of party funds to a separate organization called Nevada Democratic Victory, which was created in an effort to work directly with campaigns without the involvement of the state party.
What are their goals?
There were valid reasons to hope a radical shake-up of Nevada’s official party apparatus would nudge elected Democrats, at least in the legislature and local government, toward an aggressive agenda to confront inequities and put working-class people above profit-seeking interests. Instead, it seems to be doing the opposite.
As Ralston notes, a handful of Sanders-backed socialists swept state Democratic leadership elections in 2021, but inherited a much lighter party bank account and have spent the last two years sniping with centrist Democrats.
Moreover, after the 2021 clean sweep, LVDSA members have oscillated between playing respectability politics and embracing empty slogans in a political context where voters are increasingly tuning out the party. As a result, Nevada’s neoliberal-minded establishment is regaining ground, including a raft of former Harry Reid machine operatives who have rushed to replace the party’s outgoing leaders and are poised to regain control of its national organization. The outcome of this battle could have serious implications for the Democrats’ broader future.
How do they plan to achieve them?
When leftist activists take over state party apparatuses, they can use it to funnel donations from progressive donors directly to anti-corporate candidates. That could mean more Medicare-for-All and $15-an-hour minimum wage legislation. Or it could simply mean putting pressure on elected officials who don’t support those goals to get in line.
Obviously, the biggest immediate impact of the Nevada Democratic Party’s takeover by socialists is that it sends a message. Republicans have been calling Democrats socialist for years now, but mostly in the generic, lame way that they do all political slurs and buzzwords. Now they will have to start quoting from Das Kapital and Murray Bookchin in fundraising appeals to Steve Sisolak and Catherine Cortez Masto.
Two weeks ago, a posse of Sanders supporters in Nevada took over the state party and won election to most leadership posts. Then they ousted the existing state party staff, all of whom were aligned with the establishment wing represented by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
How do they fit into the Democratic Party?
When Bernie Sanders acolytes took control of Nevada’s state party two years ago, it was seen as a blueprint for the progressive transformation of state parties nationwide. But, as Ralston notes, the experience in Nevada is proving less than revelatory.
Judith Whitmer, the newly elected Democratic chairwoman in Nevada, ran on a slate supported by both the Left Caucus and a local chapter of DSA. The DSA-linked candidates were running against the more establishment wing of the state party aligned with former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Republicans have seized on the development to suggest that the Democratic Party is being overtaken by socialists. But the reality is that the official state party is moot and mute and most Democrats, including those in office, don’t identify as socialists. They’re more likely to be progressives in the mold of Ocasio-Cortez and their ilk. That said, the squabble between DSA allies and the legacy Reid machine is a reminder that the fight to reshape the party’s official leadership is just getting underway.