by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
When Bernie Sanders’ supporters took over the Nevada Democratic Party two years ago, progressives across the country were thrilled.
Socialists had managed to bring down one of the most powerful establishment forces in the nation, the famed Democratic machine built by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They saw it as a blueprint for the progressive transformation of state parties.
Two years after the experiment began, there are regrets.
Judith Whitmer, the insurgent party chair who wrested control of the party from mainstream Democrats, is facing a challenge in her reelection campaign next month amid doubts from her own former supporters and accusations that she abandoned her progressive principles. And even key figures in Bernie world — including Sanders himself — say they are unhappy and embittered by what’s transpired.
“The senator is pretty disappointed in Judith’s chairmanship, specifically around her failure to build a strong grassroots movement in the state,” said a person familiar with Sanders’ thinking. “A lot of us feel sad about what could have been. It was a big opportunity for Bernie-aligned folks in the state to prove some of the folks in the establishment wrong. And that hasn’t happened.”
The situation has left the Sanders coalition in Nevada fragmented right at the onset of the critical 2024 election. And it has set off larger debates about what, exactly, the progressive movement should be doing during the twilight of the senator’s career. There is even talk that it might simply be a waste of time for the progressives to win control of a state party’s machinery.
“There just has been a complete lack of competence or ability to accomplish anything significant,” said Peter Koltak, a Democratic strategist and former Nevada senior adviser for Sanders’ 2020 campaign, of the current state party leadership. “Look, there’s a lot of well-meaning activists involved there, but they don’t understand the ins and outs of how you build modern campaigns.”