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Ellison says he’ll resign from Congress if elected DNC head

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison remains the early favorite to become the next leader of the Democratic National Committee, amid resistance to the Minnesota liberal’s bid from key parts of the party’s base.

The contest is evolving into a larger fight over the future of the party.

Backers of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are throwing their support behind Ellison while some Hillary Clinton supporters are searching for an alternative.

Ellison picked up a powerful endorsement recently from the AFL-CIO, which issued a statement calling him a “proven leader.”

But his candidacy remains under siege.

Ellison has faced vocal criticism from prominent Democrats, Jewish groups and some union leaders, who have questioned his comments about Israel, his defense of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and his commitment to his own party.

Earlier this month, a union leader criticized the AFL-CIO for only including Ellison’s name, along with the choices to abstain or “make no endorsement at this time,” on the ballot sent to union members.

A federation faction “seems to want to push our movement further and further to the left,” Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said in a recent statement. “That is a recipe for disaster as the most recent election results just showed.”

An editorial in an official Nation of Islam publication, “The Final Call,” quoted articles that Ellison wrote in the 1990s praising Farrakhan as a “sincere, tireless and uncompromising advocate.”

The editorial accused Ellison, the first Muslim-American elected to Congress, of being a “hypocrite” for now making a “cowardly and baseless repudiation” of Farrakhan.

Ellison did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

His history with the group has distressed some Jewish organizations. The Anti-Defamation League last week said Ellison’s past remarks about Israel were “disturbing and disqualifying,” and Haim Saban, a party donor deeply involved with Israeli issues, accused Ellison of being an “anti-Semite.”

Hoping to assuage some of the concerns, Ellison said he would resign his seat in Congress if he were picked as chairman by DNC members at the late February elections.

“Whoever wins the DNC chair race faces a lot of work, travel, planning and resource raising,” Ellison said in a statement. “I will be ‘all in’ to meet the challenge.”

The contest has divided Democratic leaders, placing Obama’s team at odds with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada and his replacement, New York’s Chuck Schumer, whose early support for Ellison was seen as an effort to shore up the liberal flank in Congress.

Part of the issue is personal. Ellison has, at times, broken ranks to criticize Obama, the head of the party he now hopes to lead.

While White House aides say that Obama is unlikely to publicly comment on the race, behind the scenes his backers have been speaking with Democratic donors and potential candidates to see who else might be persuaded to run, according to several Democrats familiar with the discussions. These Democrats were not authorized to publicly discuss those private discussions and spoke on condition of anonymity.

High on the White House’s list of preferred candidates is Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who’s weighing whether to run for the party job or for Maryland governor, said the Democrats.

A vocal contingent is pushing for a Latino leader at the DNC, arguing that the growing demographic group is crucial to the party’s future and should be represented at the highest levels.

Others have been trying to draft Vice President Joe Biden and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, both of whom have ruled out a bid.

South Carolina’s party chairman, Jaime Harrison, and the party head in New Hampshire, Ray Buckley, have announced bids, though they haven’t gotten much traction.

Missouri’s secretary of state, Jason Kander, who attracted attention for running a surprisingly competitive Senate race this year, says he’s gotten calls exploring his interest in the post.

“I’m going to do all that I can for the cause of progress,” Kander said. “If it turns out that my party wants me to serve as chair I’m open to that.”

Ellison backers argue that the party must take a more populist approach after the 2016 losses, saying Democratic leaders did too little to address the economic pain of working-class voters.

“Keith brings a breath of fresh air to the Democratic party,” said DNC member Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “He believes in strengthening the economics for working families across the country.”

But some are more concerned with campaign mechanics than message, saying the party’s outreach, bench and fundraising languished under Wasserman Schultz.

“Ellison talks about vision when we need a fundraiser and organizer,” said Bob Mulholland, a longtime California Democratic operative and DNC member.

Kennedy vote seems key to Supreme Court redistricting cases

Justice Anthony Kennedy appears to hold the decisive vote in two Supreme Court cases involving challenges from African-American voters to electoral districts in North Carolina and Virginia.

The court’s liberal and conservative justices seemed otherwise divided after arguments this week about whether race played too large a role in creation of congressional districts in North Carolina and state legislative districts in Virginia.

The issue of race and redistricting one is a familiar one at the Supreme Court. States have to take race into account when drawing maps for legislative, congressional and a host of municipal political districts. At the same time, race can’t be the predominant factor, under a line of high court cases stretching back 20 years.

Kennedy said he had problems with a lower court’s reasoning in upholding 12 districts in Virginia, suggesting there could be a majority for throwing out that decision. He had less to say about the two North Carolina congressional districts, which were struck down by a lower court.

The arguments demonstrated the difficulty in distinguishing racial and partisan motivations, when African-Americans overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.

The justices soon could be asked to decide whether the Constitution also prohibits electoral maps that are too partisan, in a case from Wisconsin.

Justices on both sides of the divide voiced a certain fatigue with the issue. Justice Samuel Alito suggested states are being held to an impossible standard that is “just an invitation for litigation in every one of these instances.”

Justice Stephen Breyer said he had hoped his majority opinion in a case from Alabama “would end these cases in this court, which it certainly doesn’t seem to have done.” Breyer said lawmakers could not take not a “mechanically numerical” approach to redistricting.

In Virginia, lawmakers in 2011 used the results of the 2010 census to create 12 districts in which African-Americans made up at least 55 percent of the population of eligible voters, saying that level was necessary to ensure they could elect their candidate of choice. Black voters who sued contended lawmakers packed the districts with black voters, making other districts whiter and more Republican. The effect was to dilute black voting strength, they said.

Arguing for the Virginia challengers, attorney Marc Elias said the lower court was wrong to uphold a “one size fits all” standard regardless of the different voting patterns and demographics across the 12 districts.

He drew support from Justice Elena Kagan. “It sort of defies belief you could pick a number and say that applies with respect to every majority-minority district,” Kagan said.

Paul Clement, representing Virginia, said 55 percent actually is a reasonable number for all 12 districts. “So it’s not like this number comes out of thin air,” Clement said.

Nine of the 12 districts had greater black populations under the plan in effect before the 2010 census, and two others were at least 53 percent black.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who appeared to favor the state, questioned whether it is so easy to determine the most important reason for drawing a district a particular way when there are several considerations about its geographic size and shape, as well as the interests that unite its residents. “It’s easy to imagine situations where you cannot say that one dominates over all the others.”

The North Carolina case seemed to present more of a puzzle to the court. The lower court struck down two majority-black congressional districts, finding they relied too heavily on race.

The state, also represented by Clement, conceded the use of race in one district, but only to maintain a black-majority district. In the other, Clement said, race played no role at all in the creation of one district. “This was an avowedly political draw,” he said, meaning that Republicans who controlled the redistricting process wanted to leave the district in Democratic hands, so that the surrounding districts would be safer for Republicans.

Clement also suggested that the challenges in both cases were motivated more by Democratic politics than concerns about race.

Kennedy’s votes in redistricting cases can be hard to predict. He joined Breyer’s opinion in the Alabama case last year. In 2013, Kennedy sided with more conservative justices to effectively block a key component of the landmark Voting Rights Act that led to the election of African-Americans across the South. Its provisions requiring states to create and preserve districts in which minority voting groups can elect their candidate of choice remain in effect.

In North Carolina, the federal court also struck down some state House and Senate districts, and last week, those judges ordered new districts drawn and special elections held next year.

North Carolina Republicans have used the current districts to achieve veto-proof majorities in both chambers. In addition, they hold 10 of the state’s 13 congressional seats. By contrast, statewide contests suggest a narrower gap between the parties. Two Republicans won statewide elections last month, President-elect Donald Trump with just under 50 percent of the vote and Sen. Richard Burr with 51 percent. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday conceded defeat in his closely fought bid for another term.

Decisions in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, 15-680, and McCrory v. Harris, 15-1262, are expected by early summer.

Meet California’s new US senator, Kamala Harris

Kamala Devi Harris is the first Indian woman elected to a U.S. Senate seat and the second black woman, following Carol Moseley Braun, who served a single term after being elected in 1992.

The daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica gives national Democrats a new face with an appealing resume — a career prosecutor and attorney general in the nation’s most populous state — and a lineage that fits squarely with the party’s goal to mirror a changing country.

By 2050, minorities are projected to be the majority in the U.S., as they are in California, and women are a majority in every state. Harris, who takes a seat in a Senate that remains overwhelmingly white and male, defeated another Democrat, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, in Tuesday’s election.

“Harris will help make the Senate look more like America,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Slowly, the Senate will catch up with the nation’s demographics, and Harris proves the point.”

She has drawn comparisons to her friend, President Barack Obama, another lawyer and racial groundbreaker.

Her sister, Maya Harris, was a senior policy adviser for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

“Our diversity is our power,” Harris told fellow Democrats last year.

In picking the 52-year-old Harris to replace retiring Barbara Boxer, voters also looked to a new generation for leadership.

Boxer, who served four terms after being first elected in 1992, will turn 76 this week. California’ senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, is 83. Hillary Clinton will turn 70 next year.

In Harris, Californians are getting a liberal Democrat much in the mold of the senator they are replacing. It’s telling that her first major endorsement came from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of the party’s liberal wing.

Along with her law-and-order credentials, Harris supports gay rights, reproductive rights and the $15 minimum wage. She want to do more to fight climate change and supports immigration reform with a path to citizenship for people who entered the U.S. illegally.

Born in Oakland, California, Harris calls Thurgood Marshall an inspiration and talks often about growing up with parents deeply involved in the civil rights movement. She married Los Angeles lawyer Douglas Emhoff two years ago, her first marriage.

Her economist father and cancer specialist mother met as graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley, where Harris recalls they “spent full time marching and shouting about this thing called justice.” They later divorced.

She comes to the Senate after twice being elected state attorney general. As a candidate she stressed her fights with big banks during the mortgage crisis, for-profit colleges that were financially exploiting students and environmental wrongdoers.

A central theme for years has been recidivism and criminal justice reform, where she has advocated for a different approach to non-violent crimes that emphasizes rehabilitation and help getting back on track, not severe, one-size-fits-all punishment. She calls it smart on crime.

Harris emerged from the election largely unscathed after facing Sanchez, who suffered from a string of verbal gaffes and saw the party establishment line up behind Harris. Harris never trailed in polling or fundraising.

She was able to overcome a deficit of experience in foreign affairs _ rival Sanchez called her unready for the job _ while fending off criticism about rising crime rates and that she is too often cautious when faced with politically dicey subjects.

Sanchez and some other Democrats, for example, said she was not aggressive enough on prosecutions and investigations related to fatal shootings by police.

At an NAACP convention in Sacramento in October, Harris was describing the steps the state has taken to deter police bias when Jay King jumped to his feet and stalked out of the room.

“Police are killing us,” he shouted. “I can’t listen to this.”

King, a singer and volunteer host on a Sacramento radio station, said afterward that he previously voted for Harris and contributed to her campaign. But he criticized Harris and Obama for not doing more.

Harris took the interruption in stride.

“People are shouting in a room or on the streets because they feel they’re not being heard,” she said later. “We have to give voice to that.”

Thinly tested on the national stage, the next question will be can she deliver in a Congress riven by partisanship.

A glance at her website provides a snapshot of her goals, including free tuition at community colleges and increasing rainwater storage capacity in drought-plagued California.

In a state where millions struggle in poverty, where extremes of wealth and destitution can be witnessed by walking a few blocks in downtown Los Angeles, Harris talks about rebuilding the “ladder of opportunity” for those left behind.

“I wanted to do the work that was about being a voice for the vulnerable,” she has said.

New DNC Chair Donna Brazile talks about longtime friend Clinton

Longtime organizer Donna Brazile is the new chair of the Democratic National Committee. At the convention on July 26, she talked about a longtime friend: Hillary Clinton.

Brazile’s remarks at the DNC at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia:

Growing up, I was always told that a lady should never reveal her age. I’ll simply say this, I am no spring chicken and I have seen a lot of things in my time. As a child, I saw and survived the segregated South. I sat at the back of the bus at a time when America wasn’t yet as great as it could be.

As a grown woman, I saw the first black president reach down a hand and touch the face of a child like I once was, lifting his eyes toward a better future. But I have never, ever, in all my years seen a leader so committed to delivering that better future to America’s children as Hillary Clinton.

Let me tell you when I first met Hillary. When Hillary graduated from law school, she could have gone to work for a corporation or a big law firm. Instead, she went to work for the Children’s Defense Fund. She didn’t sit in an office, either. She traded pumps for tennis shoes. Hillary went undercover, going door-to-door and school-to-school, investigating discrimination, and the treatment of children with disabilities.

At the same time that Donald Trump was facing a federal discrimination lawsuit for refusing to rent to minority families, Hillary Clinton risked her own safety to seek out the truth, to comfort the afflicted, and to make a home for justice where there was none.

It was at the Children’s Defense Fund that I met Hillary. I was 21, feisty, and ready to fight. And I remember thinking immediately, here is a woman who doesn’t mess around. Steel in her spine, Hillary didn’t want to talk about anything other than how to make children’s lives better. That’s the Hillary I know. That’s who she is. When nobody was watching, she quietly toiled away for the voiceless among us.

Over her career, that never changed. From expanding early childhood education as First Lady of Arkansas, to helping win health care for 8 million children as First Lady of the United States, to standing up for women and girls here at home, and around the world as Secretary of State, she has never forgotten what she learned in that very first job.

At her core, rooting her to this earth, is the belief that every child, black or white, rich or poor, native-born, immigrant, or undocumented, deserves the opportunity to live up to their God-given potential.

My friends, as a child I sat in the back of the bus. I was told, time and time again, that God’s potential didn’t exist in people like me. I’ve spent my life fighting to change that. And, from the first day when I met Hillary Clinton, I’ve known that she’s someone who cares just as much and fights just as hard.

As long as she’s in charge, we are never going back. That’s why I’m with Her.

Sanders wins on climate, loses on trade in Dems’ platform draft

Bernie Sanders’ campaign electrified debate over a draft of the Democratic Party’s policy positions, winning concessions on climate change but failing to include opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

During a frequently combative session in an Orlando hotel ballroom this past weekend, members of the Democratic National Convention’s full Platform Committee voted down amendments to the party platform to explicitly oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

But Sanders supporters exploded in cheers when they won environmental amendments that included support for pricing greenhouse gases, prioritizing renewable energy and limiting fracking.

“None of this would have happened in this forum without Bernie Sanders pushing this issue front and center over and over again,” said environmentalist Bill McKibben, a supporter of the Vermont senator.

Hillary Clinton backers offered support for the environmental language, but stressed pricing greenhouse gases was a reflection of the views of some party members and was not a part of her current climate plans.

“Her plan is clearly articulated on her website,” said Energy Policy Adviser Trevor Houser. “It’s not her plan.”

Since Clinton effectively clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders has aggressively campaigned to include his progressive policies in the party platform.

As the policy meeting concluded after midnight on July 10, aides to Clinton and Sanders both hailed the newly amended platform draft as the “most progressive” in party history.

The draft includes many of Sanders’ priorities, including a call for a $15 federal minimum wage over time, steps to break up large Wall Street banks and support for the end to the death penalty.

“I think if you read the platform right now, you will understand that the political revolution is alive and kicking,” said Sanders policy adviser Warren Gunnels.

Despite coming together on many pieces of the platform, there were still evident tensions in the room. In the closing moments of the meeting, Sanders supporters shouted down an amendment that implied Clinton was the nominee.

On to Philadelphia

The platform is a nonbinding document that serves as a guidepost for the party. After the Orlando meeting, the document will be voted on at the convention in Philadelphia this month.

The Orlando meeting was not the final stop for Sanders, who should have support to file reports that would allow for votes on some of these issues at the convention.

While platform talks are often an afterthought, Sanders’ focus on the document brought more heat to the proceedings in Orlando. The fight over the trade deal was punctuated with boos and shouting at times, as members debated the nuances of the language.

On the trade deal

Sanders and Clinton have come out against the trade deal, but President Barack Obama supports it.

Clinton supporters, including labor leaders, believed that toughening the trade language made enough of a statement without directly opposing the president, whom they did not mention during their public comments.

The amendment said that trade deals “must protect workers and the environment and not undermine access to critically needed prescription drugs.” It went on to say that Democrats would apply those standards “to all trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Labor leaders said after the vote that their amendment made clear where they stand on TPP and that they oppose “bad trade deals.” But Sanders backers expressed their frustration with boos and angry shouts.

Sanders supporter Benjamin Jealous, a former president of the NAACP argued that language opposing the TPP would help Democrats win the presidential election in November. “I want us to stop making it harder for us to win and start making it easier for us to win,” he said.

Clinton senior policy adviser Maya Harris said in a statement that Clinton opposes the TPP and is not interested in “tinkering around the margins” of the deal. She added that the TPP “fails the test that is now laid out in the platform as a result of this amendment.”

Compromise on climate change

The compromise language on climate change said that the Democratic Party believes “that carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases should be priced” to reflect their negative economic impact. It backs renewable fuels over natural gas power plants. And it offers support for more regulation of fracking and says fracking should not happen where there is local opposition.

Sanders had sought a carbon tax and national ban on fracking.

An effort failed to add language in a section on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling for “an end to occupation and illegal settlements.”

The committee instead kept language that advocates working toward a “two-state solution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict” that guarantees Israel’s security with recognized borders “and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity.”

Both sides agreed on an amendment focused on criminal justice reform, calling for an investigation by the Department of Justice to investigate on any police-involved shootings. And on a narrow vote, the committee approved language to remove marijuana as a “Class 1 Federal Controlled Substance, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization.”

Editor’s note: This story will be updated with more details on the platform process. And, for another report regarding LGBT issues in the platform, visit www.wisconsingazette.com.

Sanders to vote for Clinton to stop Trump

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said on June 24 he would vote for Hillary Clinton to stop Republican Donald Trump from winning the White House, a lukewarm show of support that his campaign said was not a formal endorsement.

Sanders’ comments come after weeks of pressure from Democratic Party officials to throw his weight behind Clinton, the presumptive nominee. She locked up the required number of delegates this month with a string of wins in state-by-state primary contests.

Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state, senator, and first lady, needs Sanders’ supporters to boost her chances against Trump in the Nov. 8 election. Only 40 percent of them say they would vote for her, with the rest undecided or divided between Trump, a third-party candidate and staying home, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.

Asked if he would vote for Clinton in November, Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, told MSNBC television: “Yes. The issue right here is I’m going to do everything I can to defeat Donald Trump. I think Trump in so many ways would be a disaster for this country if he were elected president.”

“We do not need a president whose cornerstone of his campaign is bigotry, who is insulting Mexicans and Latinos and Muslims and women, who does not believe in the reality of climate change,” he continued.

A spokeswoman for Sanders said his comments on MSNBC did not amount to an endorsement of Clinton, adding that “Senator Sanders is also still an active candidate.”

Trump has angered minority groups with his hard line on immigration, including calls to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country, deport millions of undocumented immigrants, and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border if he is elected.

A spokeswoman for Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The wealthy New York businessman has rejected accusations his proposals are bigoted, and has said his policies would help minorities by bolstering the economy and creating jobs.

Trump has also called climate change a hoax by the Chinese to hurt business in the United States.

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, managed to turn his long-shot run into a mass movement with proposals to combat wealth inequality, increase access to healthcare and education, and defend the environment.

His challenge to Clinton, one of the best-known figures in U.S. politics, lasted far longer than expected, running for four months and across 50 states and yielding record numbers of small donations to his campaign.

Sanders has said he will continue to push for a liberal agenda heading into the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia from July 25-28, when Clinton’s nomination is expected to become official. He has also made clear he does not want his presence to hurt the party’s chances of holding onto the White House.

Three-quarters of likely Democratic voters in the general election say Sanders should have a “major role” in shaping the party’s positions, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted June 17-21. Nearly two-thirds also said that Sanders should endorse Clinton.

 

Poll: Americans want nomination system changed

As the tortured primary season concludes, Americans say in a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research that they have little faith in the nomination systems for selecting presidential candidates.

They prefer open primaries to those that are closed to all but party members, like primaries instead of caucuses and oppose the party insiders known as superdelegates, who have a substantial say in the Democratic race.

“It’s kind of like a rigged election,” said Nayef Jaber, a 66-year-old Bernie Sanders supporter from San Rafael, California. “It’s supposed to be one man one vote. This is the way it should be.”

According to the poll, 38 percent of Americans say they have hardly any confidence that the Democratic Party’s process for selecting a presidential nominee is fair; 44 percent say the same of the Republican Party’s process. In addition, about 4 in 10 say they have only some confidence in each party’s nomination process.

Just 17 percent of Republicans and 31 percent of Democrats have a great deal of confidence in their own party’s system being fair.

“The common man needs to be included more,” said Gwendolyn Posey, 44, a registered independent from Sparks, Oklahoma, who said she could not cast a ballot for Texas Republican Ted Cruz because she had not changed her registration to Republican in time.

Changing the process has become a rallying cry for the Vermont senator, who won 20 states but has little if any chance of catching up to rival Hillary Clinton in votes or delegates. Still he hopes to influence the party platform, as well as spark debate about the rules. He’s not the only one to bash the system — presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has called the Republican process “rigged.”

Both parties have complex mechanisms for choosing presidential nominees, with each state holding caucuses or primaries under different rules. Candidates earn delegates to back them at the summer nominating conventions, with a certain number required to clinch the nomination.

Democrats embraced superdelegates in 1982 to make sure party leaders have a say in who is nominated. By giving key insiders more voice, leaders hoped to avoid what some saw as a mistake in 1972, when George McGovern won the nomination but was a weak general election candidate. About 15 percent of the total delegates this year are superdelegates, and critics say this group has given Clinton an advantage. She holds a commanding lead over Sanders, however, even without counting the superdelegates.

Republicans have no equivalent to superdelegates, but each state has three Republican National Committee members as part of their delegation. In most states those delegates are bound to the primary results.

Supporters of Sanders are especially incensed about the use of superdelegates, who can back any candidate at the convention regardless of how people voted in primaries and caucuses

Fifty-three percent of Americans say the Democrats’ use of superdelegates is a bad idea, according to the polls, while just 17 percent say it’s a good idea. Among Democrats, 46 percent say it’s a bad idea and only 25 percent say it’s a good idea.

Sanders has also called for more open primaries, slamming states that won’t allow independent voters to participate, as well as ones where people must register with a party in advance. Americans generally also say that open primaries are more fair than closed primaries, 69 percent to 29 percent. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say open primaries are the most fair, 73 percent to 62 percent.

Caucuses, too, are on the outs with many people. They are often lengthy meetings held at a fixed time, unlike primary elections, which just require a stop at a polling place, if not a vote in advance. Poll respondents preferred primaries 81 percent to 17 percent, with overwhelming majorities of Democrats and Republicans saying so. Sanders has performed well in caucuses, however, in part because his supporters are willing to invest the time in them.

Looking ahead, both sides are talking about potential changes. Sanders supporters in a number of states have sought to change the rules governing superdelegates at state conventions, though a true overhaul would have to come at the national level. That process could not start until next year, said Raymond Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, who serves on the Democratic National Convention rules committee.

On the GOP side, changes could be debated at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, though RNC member Randy Evans, who serves on the rules committee, said it was more likely that Republicans would take a longer look at possible changes after the convention. He said a key criticism has been that the current process does not ensure that delegates won in a primary remain loyal at the convention.

 

Want to be a delegate to the GOP convention? It’s not easy

So, you want to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention?

You could have a rare opportunity to help make history, if none of the Republican presidential candidates reaches the target 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination on the first ballot. And maybe — just maybe — billionaire businessman Donald Trump will take you for a spin on Trump Force One.

Now, if you’re looking to jump on the bandwagon today, the bad news is it’s probably too late.

Most state parties haven’t picked their delegates yet, but in general, they’re looking for people who have demonstrated loyalty by investing time and money helping to elect Republican candidates.

“It’s always helpful to show that you care about the party and its work if you want the party to make you a delegate,” said Ben Ginsberg, a longtime Republican lawyer and an expert on the nominating process.

“Suppose that your passion in life is helping out on the local level with political campaigns or with party work,” he said. “This is the reward at the end of a four-year rainbow.”

It’s definitely an insider’s game, which is one reason that Trump appears to be struggling to get his supporters selected as delegates, even though he’s won the most primaries.

Look at North Dakota, for example. The state didn’t hold a primary this year. Instead, the state GOP selected 25 delegates at its state convention last weekend. The state’s three Republican National Committee members will also be delegates in the July convention.

Because North Dakota didn’t hold a primary, its delegates are free to support the candidate of their choice, regardless of who wins the popular vote. The GOP calls them “unbound.”

There will be between 150 and 200 unbound delegates at the convention. If Texas Sen. Ted Cruz can block Trump from clinching the nomination on the first ballot, these unbound delegates are going to be the most popular people in Cleveland.

But in North Dakota, you’ve got to pay your dues if you want to be a delegate.

Among the questions on the delegate application: How much time have you volunteered working for the North Dakota GOP, and how much money have you donated?

As a result, most of the delegates are past or present elected officials or party workers.

Ten of the delegates told The Associated Press that they support Cruz. None of them has publicly endorsed Trump.

“It really reeks of inside politics and that is upsetting a lot of people,” said Gary Emineth, a Bismarck businessman and former chairman of the state GOP party.

Despite his own lengthy history with the party, Emineth said the process should be more open to outsiders, grassroots enthusiasts who bring energy to the party.

In about a dozen states, the candidates pick their delegates. Among them is California, which has 172 delegates, plus alternates.

If you want to be a delegate in California, it would be smart to profess your loyalty to one of the campaigns because they are aggressively vetting potential delegates — a total of more than 300 people for each candidate, including alternates.

In most states, however, the campaigns have no official role in selecting delegates. That could be a problem for Trump, who could end up with delegates who are required to vote for him on the first ballot, but can switch to someone else on subsequent ballots should they desire.

Most of these delegates are selected at state and congressional district conventions, where Cruz and his supporters have done a good job rounding up supporters.

The process, however, can be complicated, with rules and requirements varying from state to state.

In South Carolina, you can’t be a national delegate unless you served as one at the state or congressional district convention.

In Michigan, most of the delegates at the state convention — the people who will select the national delegates — had to be elected as precinct delegates in the 2014 primary.

In states like Pennsylvania and Illinois, voters elect delegates on the primary ballot. In Illinois’ March 15 primary, the ballot listed each delegate along with the presidential candidate they support.

Voters won’t get that kind of help in Pennsylvania’s primary April 26. The ballot will simply list delegate candidates, with no information about whom they support for president. There isn’t much campaigning so a lot of elected officials win simply on name recognition.

If you want to be a delegate in Kentucky, it might help to make friends with people who are on the nominating committees that put together slates of national delegates. These slates are voted on at state and congressional district conventions.

If the convention rejects the slate, the committee puts together a new slate.

“This process shall continue indefinitely until a slate is approved by the state convention,” according to GOP rules in Kentucky.

In states where party insiders pick the delegates, smart presidential campaigns make friends with local officials who can help round up supporters.

“You can tap into the political networks of people who are endorsing you. They know the state and they can help,” said Mark Stephenson, a Republican strategist who ran analytics and delegate strategy for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign.

“Endorsements matter at that level. I think that’s why you see Cruz’s team having that local success, which builds momentum statewide.”

Clinton lines up powerful backers in Wisconsin

With less than two months to go before the state’s April 5 primary, powerful Wisconsin Democrats are working behind the scenes to raise money and organize supporters to help Hillary Clinton’s campaign. There are few signs of a similar show of force for her challenger Bernie Sanders.

The dynamic on display in Wisconsin in many ways echoes the fight nationally between Clinton and the independent Vermont senator. Clinton enjoys the support of Democratic Party insiders and activists she’s known and worked with for years, while the lesser-known Sanders is relying on small money donations and an army of younger voters and more liberal backers not as connected with the party.

Neither campaign has any paid staff or an official presence yet in Wisconsin, but a fundraiser for Clinton says it is now “off to the races” to be ready for April 5.

That includes raising money, identifying and contacting supporters and recruiting volunteers, said Clinton backer and longtime Wisconsin-based political activist Heather Colburn.

Clinton has locked up five of the state’s 10 party insiders, known as superdelegates, who will vote for a nominee at the convention in July. Among them are some of the most well-known and powerful Democrats in Wisconsin — U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, of Milwaukee, and longtime Milwaukee-based activist and former state party chairwoman Martha Love.

Their support for Clinton is rock solid.

“I’m in it for Hillary Clinton until the end,” Love said. “Just so you know, as long as you call Martha Love, as long as she’s got breath, she’s in it for Hillary Clinton.”

Four of the other five superdelegates are uncommitted and the fifth, state party chairwoman Martha Laning, said she would support whoever wins the state’s primary.

After the Democratic debate last week in Milwaukee, advocates for Clinton in the spin room had a definite Wisconsin focus and included Baldwin and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. The Sanders team focused on national surrogates, but Wisconsin-based supporters are preparing for him in the upcoming primary as well.

The Working Families Party, a national coalition of labor groups, has endorsed Sanders, and its recently formed Wisconsin chapter is also behind him.

“We think he can win in Wisconsin, and we’ll be getting our members activated in the campaign here,” said the group’s state director, Marina Dimitrijevic, a member of the Milwaukee County Board.

Sanders’ appeal in Wisconsin likely will be centered in liberal hubs like Madison and Milwaukee. Sanders’ only visit to Wisconsin during the campaign was to Madison in July, when he attracted 10,000 people for his largest rally up to that point.

More recently, Sanders’ backers have organized debate-watch parties, volunteer phone banks and other similar activities through social networking sites such as Facebook.

The “Wisconsin for Bernie Sanders” page had about 3,500 “likes,” as WiG headed to press.

Colburn, who also managed Clinton’s Wisconsin campaign in 2008, said Clinton has similar support groups organized regionally across the state. One pro-Clinton group on Facebook had about 3,000 “likes.”

Colburn said the moving of Wisconsin’s primary from mid-February to early April changes the dynamic in the state, and also allows the candidates more time to organize. Clinton lost to Barack Obama in Wisconsin by 17 points in 2008.