Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake pounded the gavel Monday and kicked off the Democratic National Convention amid an email scandal that forced party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to relinquish the job.
A fiery show of support from vanquished presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders and a prime-time lineup of left-leaning speakers highlighted efforts by the party and presumptive presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to get their four-day celebration back on track.
Just days after Republican nominee Donald Trump’s controversy-laden Republican convention staggered to a finale, the Democrats and Clinton were stumbling out of the box themselves. The stakes are high. CNN and CBS polls released Monday indicate that, warts and all, the GOP convention may have provided enough bounce for Trump to inch ahead of Clinton.
The four-day homage to the historic nominee took an early hit with the pre-convention release of almost 20,000 Democratic Party emails by Wikileaks, some of which showed Democratic staffers clearly favoring Clinton over Vermont Sen. Sanders in the midst of the hard-fought primaries. In one email, a DNC official suggests the party could damage Sanders in the South by pressing him on his religious beliefs. In another, Wasserman Schultz refers to Sanders’ campaign manager as a “damn liar.”
The FBI announced Monday it was investigating a hack involving the emails. The New York Times reported that researchers at CrowdStrike, a California-based cybersecurity firm, linked the breach to Russian intelligence agencies. Crowdstrike declined a request for comment from USA TODAY.
The controversy makes Sanders’ prime-time speech Monday crucial. The Vermont senator has been gracious, saying Wasserman Schultz “deserves thanks for her years of service” but adding that “the party now needs new leadership that will open the doors of the party and welcome in working people and young people.”
In a passionate warm-up speech Monday afternoon before hundreds of his delegates, Sanders made it clear he won’t be leading a rebellion against Clinton.
“We have got to defeat Donald Trump,” Sanders said to cheers before drawing jeers by adding “And we have got to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.”
But he won the crowd back over by continuing: “Trump is a bully and a demagogue. Trump has made bigotry and hatred the cornerstone of his campaign.”
The email controversy led Wasserman Schultz to announce Sunday she would step down at the convention’s conclusion. On Monday, she said she won’t gavel the convention into session Monday.
That came after an embarrassing breakfast with the Florida delegation. The Florida congresswoman entered the room to a standing ovation and cheers from her supporters, but quickly faced a torrent of jeers from Sanders supporters.
“I can see there’s a little bit of interest in my being here, and I can appreciate that interest,” Wasserman Schultz told the crowd.
Sanders issued a statement Sunday saying Wasserman Schultz “deserves thanks for her years of service” but adding that “the party now needs new leadership that will open the doors of the party and welcome in working people and young people.”
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SOURCE: USA Today – John Bacon and Richard Wolf