Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders scored a surprise victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday at the Clark County Democratic Convention, where Sanders won the largest number of delegates a month after losing the Nevada caucuses.
Long lines, a packed convention center and the controversial suspension of the county party’s credentials chair threatened to disrupt the operation of the convention throughout the day. But after five hours of registration and check-in, thousands of people had packed into the Cashman Center, and by early evening, the delegates had been counted and Sanders announced as the winner.
The county convention was the second in a three-step process for Nevada to choose its delegates to send to the Democratic National Convention this summer. The first was the February caucuses, the results of which are used to apportion 23 of the delegates Nevada will send to the national convention. The second step, the county convention, is when delegates are selected to the state convention in May. The third step is the state convention, when 12 more delegates are apportioned based on attendees’ preferences.
Nearly 9,000 delegates were elected on caucus day in late February, but only 3,825 showed up to Saturday’s convention. An additional 915 elected alternates and 604 unelected alternates also turned out to support their favored candidate.
The final delegate count was 2,964 for Sanders and 2,386 for Clinton. That means the Sanders campaign will send 1,613 delegates to the state convention, while the Clinton campaign will send 1,298.
“We pretty much won Nevada,” said Sanders’ state director, Joan Kato, smiling as the results were announced.
What that means is the delegates from Clark County — along with the delegates selected by Nevada's other counties Saturday — will attend the state convention in May, where they will help select delegates to go to July’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. But, because of the way delegate-selection rules work in Nevada, they will only get to decide the proportion of 12 delegates — five pledged party leaders and elected official delegates and seven at-large delegates — that go to each candidate.
The apportionment of 23 delegates, known as “district-level” delegates, is already decided, as they are based proportionally on the Feb. 20 caucus results in each district. In the February caucuses, Clinton had won 55 percent of delegates to the county convention — 4,889 to Sanders’ 4,026.
There are an additional eight unpledged party leaders and elected official delegates who will attend the national convention.
Sanders supporters were surprised and pleased Saturday.
“I’m friends with a lot of people that support Bernie, and they were bringing people here,” said Zamir Anderson, a 20-year-old College of Southern Nevada student. “Especially with how we did in Utah, Alaska, I feel like he’s gaining a lot of traction.”
The convention wasn’t without its hiccups. Convention-goers complained of expectedly long lines and having to wait outside without shade for hours.
“I thought it was going to be more organized and faster,” said Elda Armenta, a 43-year-old Sanders supporter from Las Vegas. “It doesn’t even look like the organizers know what they’re doing.”
Others who had hoped the convention would run more smoothly than the caucuses were disappointed.
“It’s our first time here, so we weren’t sure how things were going to be handled,” said grad school student Fabiola Gutierrez, 27, who lives in Las Vegas and attended with a friend. “The caucus was pretty awful, so we’re hoping for a better experience than the caucuses.”
But the biggest threat to the convention’s success appeared to be the suspension of the county party’s credentials chair early Saturday morning. Christine Kramar was suspended from her post after Clinton campaign officials raised concerns about her neutrality.
The issue came to the fore late Friday night, when Kramar learned from Sanders campaign staffers that the Clinton campaign was pressing for her removal. When Kramar showed up at Cashman Center just before 8 a.m. Saturday, she discovered she had been suspended for not showing up earlier.
In protest, Kramar and a few others staged a sit-in in the hall where the convention was held and were almost cited with trespassing.
Kramar said state Sen. Aaron Ford sat on the ground with the group and helped smooth over the situation to prevent further law enforcement involvement.
“At the end of the day, no one is going to care who is to blame,” Ford said. “At the end of the day, I was able to broker a compromise between the interested parties.”
Ford also passed along a password to the event registration account from Kramar, which allowed registration and check-in to proceed smoothly. (Kramar contends registration could have continued without her password, saying other county party officials had access to the registration information.)
The concerns over Kramar’s neutrality surfaced when Clinton’s general counsel, Marc Elias, sent a letter to county party Chair Chris Miller on Wednesday, requesting that Kramar be removed from her post. In the letter, the campaign alleged Kramar had shown bias by exposing confidential information to Sanders’ campaign and making personal attacks against members of the Clinton campaign.
A Clinton campaign official said some of that sensitive information included data about delegates and alternates, along with contact and other proprietary information.
Kramar denied the allegations and said she had tried to make the credentialing process as transparent as possible. Kramar said that when something was wrong with one of the registrations — such as when someone’s information didn’t match the official delegate list, or he or she had registered multiple times — she would email the two campaigns to let them know.
Kramar also denied showing any bias toward the Sanders campaign — though she does support the Vermont senator — and noted that she had volunteered for Clinton’s campaign in 2008. Kramar also served as credential chair for the 2012 county party convention.
“I’m just in shock,” Kramar said. “I’m trying to keep it equal and fair. I pissed off an equal number of Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters.”
Miller declined to comment.
The Clinton campaign also took issue in the letter with what it said was an “ultimatum” from Kramar: that either the convention continue as planned or that it be delayed to allow discussion of changes to credentialing rules. Kramar said the Clinton campaign had asked for a number of rule changes ahead of the convention and that she believed more time was necessary if it wanted to “radically change” the convention rules.
“They were fishing to see if this could be done or that could be done,” Kramar said.
The Clinton campaign said in the letter that it had “always” been its position to continue with the convention as scheduled with the existing rules.
Representatives from the Sanders campaign balked at the suggestion that Kramar had shown bias. Kato said she hadn’t seen any of the allegations made by the Clinton campaign but thought the process by which Kramar was removed was unfair.
“I felt like she was pretty impartial, and the fact that she served on the committee before, it seemed like nobody had an issue with her until last night,” Kato said. “It seemed all of a sudden.”
A few convention-goers had heard rumors of Kramar’s removal or the early-morning sit-in — a picture of which was retweeted by the official Bernie Sanders Twitter account — but most didn’t notice any effect on the convention process.
“The lines were very long, but once we got in, it was very straightforward, very easy,” said Pat Smith, 69, from Henderson.
The delegates chosen Saturday will attend the state Democratic convention on May 14. The Democratic National Convention will be July 25-28.