The Battle Within: Friction, Purges, and Power Struggles in Nevada Democratic Party

Nevada Democratic Party Events

The rift between progressive groups and the state party establishment began after Bernie Sanders’s caucus victory. Progressives built local infrastructure that helped them grow, but the national Democratic operation led by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid didn’t see it that way.

Internal party documents obtained by NBC News outline the heated battle that has played out since Whitmer took over the chair position in January.

Local Party Meetings

The Nevada State Democratic Party is a state affiliate of the National Democratic Party in the U.S. state of Nevada. It is a major party, controlling all of the state’s four U.S. House seats and both of its senatorial seats, as well as both houses of the state legislature and all statewide offices except the governorship, lieutenant governorship and controllership.

The state party chair, Judith Whitmer, has drawn criticism from members of her own party after more than 230 central committee members were removed from the list of membership ahead of their scheduled officer elections this March. Whitmer defended the purge as standard procedure conducted when members fail to attend meetings.

The infighting reflects a larger power struggle between an insurgent progressive wing and the nationally renowned political operation built by former Senate majority leader Harry Reid that installed Democrats at all levels of state government. The struggle has reignited with the 2024 election cycle.

State Party Meetings

Aside from the obvious political repercussions, the state party’s purge of 40 percent of its central committee membership is a major blunder in a state that relies heavily on labor support. It also puts a significant amount of distance between the state party and the most visible Lefties in Nevada, including leaders from two substantial local unions.

In addition to the ongoing feud with local unions, Whitmer’s leadership style is generating some serious friction with progressive and Democratic Socialist factions in the state party. She’s made the decision to make central committee attendance records public, a move that could spark shouting matches and fisticuffs at the next meeting.

The state party’s Coalitions department should be expanded to prioritize outreach with constituencies that have historically been marginalized and oppressed in Nevada. But that can’t be an afterthought in the party’s operational strategy; it must be a top priority. That will take resources and serious year-round organizing in every county.

Candidate Forums

Several Democratic presidential candidates will be in Nevada this week. They include Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and John Delaney, business leader and philanthropist Tom Steyer, and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Buttigieg’s presence in Nevada this week highlights a new dynamic in Democratic politics: an upheaval that has pitted progressive organizers who supported Bernie Sanders against veterans of the Harry Reid machine. This week’s events were triggered by a slate of Sanders-supporting activists running for party leadership on what they call “The NV Dems Progressive Slate,” and which included all but one candidate who is a dues-paying member of a local DSA chapter. The result is that a number of Sanders supporters have been deleted from the party’s central committee, ticking off a substantial labor organization like Culinary Union Local 226 and drawing national attention. The upheaval has raised questions about whether the state party can move forward and compete in 2022 and beyond without further fracturing.

Regional Meetings

Unlike the Republican Party, which does not control any statewide offices or federal seats, Nevada has a long history of Democratic control of state government. The party controls five of the six statewide constitutional offices and has a majority in both chambers of the state legislature.

The party is at war with itself. The more liberal wing that helped the new chairwoman take over last year has lost two key races to establishment Democrats, including a primary challenger to Governor Steve Sisolak.

In one document, Whitmer’s staff memorialized a plan for an aggressive media campaign to compel Washoe County Democrats to join the state party or face legal action that could de-charter the group and restrict its fundraising. The plan was never executed.

Mo Elleithee, the committee’s senior policy adviser, has said the panel shouldn’t be “held hostage to tradition” and has floated creative solutions to fix the calendar, like allowing Iowa to kick things off in 2024.

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