AUGUSTA, Maine — A trove of leaked Democratic National Committee emails has given Republicans an opening to join progressives in hammering the Democratic establishment.
Maine emerged as a testing ground for this approach on Monday, even before the party’s national convention started in Philadelphia, where Democrats will nominate Hillary Clinton to face Republican Donald Trump in November’s presidential election.
Last week, Wikileaks released nearly 20,000 emails from top Democratic National Committee staffers, some of whom smack-talked the campaign of Clinton’s chief primary opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, which led to the Sunday resignation of Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Maine Democrats overwhelmingly backed Sanders in the March caucuses. His supporters passed a rule change at the state convention that was criticized by party officials in emails.
It led to a successful compromise push in a national convention committee to tie most “superdelegates” — the party officials who can now back any candidate — to state votes.
Republicans are using those emails to stoke further division as Trump tries to appeal to disaffected voters, but polling shows that Sanders supporters may not be easily picked off.
Top Democrats derided Maine’s rule change, but Republicans are drawing a tenuous connection between the state and national parties.
Maine’s state convention change was led by state Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, and it eventually led to 18 other states passing similar resolutions, creating the environment that led to this weekend’s superdelegate compromise.
But at the time, it angered insiders, according to the leaked emails: Democratic National Committee Vice Chair Donna Brazile, who will replace Wasserman Schultz in the interim until after the election, called it a “lunacy,” with CEO Amy Dacey saying Maine has “no jurisdiction” to make the change.
To many Sanders supporters, the emails were another sign that party insiders were behind Clinton, with National Committeeman Troy Jackson, a former Maine Senate majority leader from Allagash, calling them “validation for what we were saying all along that the DNC is corrupt.”
In a lengthy statement on Monday, the Maine Republican Party used another leaked exchange between Maine Democratic Party spokeswoman Katie Baker and Democratic National Committee employees to say the “corruption of the DNC” starts at the state level.
That’s not apparent. Baker forwarded a response to a reporter’s question on the Maine superdelegate change to Democratic National Committee staffers. A regional spokeswoman said she sent that language to another reporter. Later, a senior staffer asked to be consulted on similar language and the chain ends.
The Maine GOP also seized on other Clinton connections.
Maine’s was one of 33 state parties to participate in the Hillary Victory Fund, which helps funnel large donations to Clinton’s campaign, Democratic National Committee.
The Maine Democratic Party has gotten nearly $60,000 out of it so far. In June, the former executive director, Jeremy Kennedy, went to work for her Maine campaign.
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett called Republicans’ allegations “ridiculous,” saying Schultz’s decision to step down was correct and that all Democrats, including Sanders supporters, must “feel like they have a fair shot and their supporters are welcomed in the party.”
This comes as Trump tries to recruit Sanders voters, but he may have a long way to go to do that.
Sanders effectively ended his insurgent bid earlier this month, when he endorsed Clinton. But on Monday in Philadelphia, supporters booed when he urged them to vote for her to stop Trump.
However, convention-goers aren’t the rank-and-file, and these may be a vocal minority: 90 percent of Sanders supporters surveyed by the Pew Research Center through June said they would support Clinton against Trump.
Still, this hasn’t stopped Trump, the New York City billionaire, from trying to exploit division and recruit Sanders voters. He did that in Bangor in June, hitting Clinton on trade, a main wedge issue between her and Sanders.
On Monday, he tweeted that Clinton “betrayed” Sanders voters by picking moderate Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her vice presidential nominee, claiming that Kaine supported the Iraq war, is in the “pocket of Wall Street” and supports the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership — three flashpoints for Sanders’ backers. He came out against the trade deal just before his selection after making statements in support of it, according to POLITICO.
Opposition to free trade agreements is a popular and bipartisan stance in Maine, which may explain why Trump’s polling numbers are decent here. The state hasn’t voted Democratic since 1992, but a recent Morning Consult survey gave Trump a slight edge over Clinton.
But Maine’s Sanders delegation isn’t entertaining the thought of Trump. In a convention speech in support of superdelegate change, Russell compared him to Gov. Paul LePage, saying “I do not need to see anyone like him become president of the United States.”
“We will all have a voice in a Clinton administration,” she said.