Hillary Clinton’s campaign sought to squelch a political firestorm over hacked emails that deepened dissent among Bernie Sanders’ loyal supporters, turning to some of the party’s biggest stars Monday to heal divisions on the Democratic convention’s opening night.
“The Republican Party has been looked at as the divisive party,” said Debra Pilgrim, chairwoman of the Hall County Republican Party. “I think it clearly shows now who is divisive.”
What was supposed to be Clinton’s coronation as the party’s presidential nominee, and the first woman to lead a major U.S. political party, descended into a chorus of boos early on from the convention floor.
It also sapped some of her energy coming out of Trump’s chaotic convention last week and the well-received rollout Saturday of her running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.
The release of hacked party emails revealed the Democratic National Committee had favored Clinton over Sanders in the primary, despite vows of neutrality. The uproar led to the forced resignation of party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
“It was felt since the beginning of the primary season that the DNC was ‘all in’ for Clinton,” said Sheila Nicholas, chairwoman of the Hall County Democratic Party. “This just proves that theory.”
Pilgrim thought of her own role as a party chair and admonished Wasserman Schultz for her improprieties.
“It is our duty to remain neutral” when it comes to electing candidates to represent the party, she said. “It’s in the job description.”
Moreover, attempts by the DNC to discredit Sanders “fits (Clinton’s) character very well,” Pilgrim said.
While Wasserman Schultz’s ouster was a major victory for Sanders, it wasn’t enough to ease the frustration of his supporters.
Melissa Clink, a Gainesville resident and convention delegate for Sanders, said she attended an address with the former candidate and Clinton rival Monday morning to discuss the email controversy.
She said Sanders asked his supporters to support Clinton despite it all, “citing the dangers a Trump presidency poses to our entire nation.”
But that doesn’t mean Clink, like other Sanders supporters, is pacified.
“I think it’s unfortunate that what many (supporters) suggested and suspected turns out to have been validated,” she said. “Its findings so far are harmful to the party and to democracy …”
Gabe Shippy, president of the Hall County chapter of Young Democrats, said he understands why Sanders’ supporters are upset. He was one of them, after all.
“But we also have an obligation to be rational,” he added. “A Trump presidency would not only suspend all hope of progress, but it would dramatically set us back further than we can probably imagine.”
Shippy, who is also the Northeast regional director for the Young Democrats of Georgia, said Schultz’s resignation was a step in the right direction.
“That happened even faster than I expected,” he added. “Now we can finally get on with the business of uniting the Democratic Party. That would have been impossible with her at the helm.”
Clinton’s campaign hoped the nighttime lineup of Sanders and First Lady Michelle Obama would overshadow a tumultuous start to the four-day convention.
Campaign officials blamed the hack, which is now being investigated by the FBI, on Russian military intelligence agencies.
The campaign also accused Moscow of trying to meddle in the U.S. election and help Trump, who has said he might not necessarily defend NATO allies if they are attacked by Russia.
“Brothers and sisters, this is the real world that we live in,” Sanders said as he tried to quiet the crowd. “Trump is a bully and a demagogue.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.