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Campaign Manager Defends Bernie Sanders' Vow To Remain In Democratic Race


The presidential primaries are almost over. And the closer we get to the end, the more tension there is within the Democratic Party. Case in point, Nevada - the state's party convention turned unruly on Saturday after Hillary Clinton ended up with more delegates. Bernie Sanders supporters felt they were treated unfairly. I talked to Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manager, about the path forward.

And I asked what kind of danger there is in criticizing the primary process to the point of calling it rigged.

JEFF WEAVER: If you look at it honestly, we've participated in primaries and caucuses in over 40 states in this country. We have very good relations with state Democratic Parties all across the country. There was this one incident in Nevada. Throughout the caucus process in Nevada, which is a long process, it's sort of an iterative process. Throughout that process, there have been serious problems. And I think that that frustration just boiled over at that state convention. But...

CORNISH: But this has come up about the debate schedule as well. And, you know, it just raises questions of if, you know, Sanders, as he says, he has a steep hill to climb to claim the nomination. If he comes up short, will he be able to say he's lost fair and square and would his supporters even believe it?

WEAVER: Well, I think it is certainly the case that once this process is over, win, lose or draw, I think the senator is very interested in taking a hard look at the process by which candidates are nominated for the presidency through the Democratic Party. I think there are a number of ways of opening that process up, bringing in more people, making it more representative. You know, we've seen millions of young people come out for Sen. Sanders.

You know, many states - those young people who disproportionately register as independents, even though they vote Democratic consistently, are excluded from the process. And in the long term for the Democratic Party, we can't have a party that, overtime, gets smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller.

CORNISH: In the meantime, you've talked about making the best closing argument over these next few weeks before the convention. What is that argument going to be, especially to superdelegates at a convention, which is, you know, mayors and lawmakers and party officials that your candidate has spent the last couple of months bashing?

WEAVER: Well, I wouldn't say that we've been bashing them. But I think it is fair to put out...

CORNISH: Well, beholden to special interests, right? Like, basically, in the tank for your opponent.

WEAVER: Well, I think it is fair to say that, you know, the Democratic establishment has by and large, throughout this process, supported Secretary Clinton. I don't think that's a surprise to anybody. But, look, these are, as you pointed out, party leaders and elected officials. And what they want to do in November, ultimately, is win. A Bernie Sanders is a much stronger general election candidate against Donald Trump than a Secretary Clinton.

That's borne out now by so many polls. There's a poll just out of New Hampshire that showed that the secretary is basically running even with Donald Trump - Bernie Sanders beating him by a wide margin.

CORNISH: But if he has to win 68 percent of all the delegates going forward in all the races and he falls short of that...

WEAVER: Well, that's...

CORNISH: ...You know, do you have an obligation to be honest about what his path is?

WEAVER: Well, no, but see - you know, that's a media narrative from people who think that politics is just standing at a board doing mathematics. But it's much more than that. You know, Bernie Sanders, if we can substantially close the gap between Secretary Clinton and Sen. Sanders in terms of pledged delegates, when they get to the convention, nobody has the delegates to win with pledged delegates.

It's going to be the superdelegates who are going to have to decide this. And we can argue about the merits of having superdelegates, but we do have them. And if their role is just rubberstamp the pledged delegate count, then they really aren't needed, right? So they're supposed to exercise independent judgment about who they think can lead the party forward to victory.

CORNISH: So for the record, you are planning to contest the convention?

WEAVER: Well, I think what is going to happen is at the end of the District of Columbia, which is the last jurisdiction to vote in this process - and once that happens, if the senator has substantial momentum, if he has substantially closed the gap in terms of pledged delegates, if the public polling continues to show that he's a much stronger candidate, I think there's a strong argument to be made to superdelegates that they should take another look.

I mean, there are hundreds of superdelegates who support Hillary Clinton who announced their endorsement for her before the race even started, before they even knew Bernie Sanders was in the race. So...

CORNISH: Right, that's why I'm asking. So essentially, you're saying, yeah, if all of these things line up the way you're describing, you want - you're saying that your campaign will - you guys will raise your hand and say, yes, we want to contest this. This is not over.

WEAVER: Right, we'll go there. And, you know, superdelegates don't vote until they actually go to the convention. So let's see where the race stands at the end of the voting process. And then let's see what happens when the superdelegates actually vote in Philadelphia.

CORNISH: There's been so much talk about party unity, about tension. Truthfully, is that something you care about, I mean, or that Bernie Sanders cares about, right? I mean, does he feel - he speaks as though he's outside of the party when you look at the statements over the last few weeks.

WEAVER: I don't think that's a fair characterization. I think what Bernie Sanders is talking about is not how to tear down the party. It's about how to build the party. And if we're going to fight back against Republicans, against Donald Trump, if we're going to elect a new Congress, then we have got to broaden the base of the Democratic Party. And the path that some - and I'm not saying all because let me tell you, there are large numbers of people on the DNC who would agree with exactly what I'm saying 'cause I've talked to many of them. What they want to see is a broader base party that in the long term, can fight back against this far right Republican extremism.

CORNISH: Jeff Weaver, he's campaign manager for Bernie Sanders. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

WEAVER: Oh, really, my pleasure. Anytime. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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