The Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) chairwoman and the party’s left-wing presidential contender are sparring in the media over how welcoming the party should be toward independent voters.
Heading into the Indiana primary on Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) made the case that all party elections should be held as open contests. Primaries in the Hoosier state and nineteen others allow voters who identify as independents to participate in the Democrats’ nominating process.
Sanders once again finds himself pitted against DNC Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), who on Monday called for an entirely closed primary system.
“I think Debbie has got it backwards,” he told MSNBC Tuesday morning.
“The world has changed,” the senator said. “More and more people are independents, and I think it makes no sense for the Democrats to say to those people, ‘You can’t help us.'”
He went on to say future electoral success hinges on opening the party up to those who don’t identify with either major political faction.
“For Democrats to do well in a national election they’re going to need a lot of independents, and I would not think it’s a good idea to push those people away.”
Speaking to MSNBC on Monday, Rep. Wasserman-Schultz made the opposite argument.
Stressing that she was giving a personal opinion and not speaking in her capacity as DNC chair, Wasserman-Schultz stated: “I believe that the party’s nominee should be chosen … by members of the party.”
Relations between the Sanders campaign and the DNC have been frosty from the onset. Wasserman-Schultz, co-chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, was accused of being deferential to the Clinton camp by restricting the number of debates between the candidates.
The fractious relationship almost led the two parties to court after the DNC blocked the Sanders campaign’s access to party voter information. The party had said there were unauthorized breaches of Clinton campaign data by a Sanders’ staffer, who later was fired. Eventually, the DNC restored the Sanders campaign’s access to their files.
According to state-by-state exit polling, Sanders fares better than Clinton among independent-minded voters: a stat that bolstered prior pundit-defying Sanders victories in states with open contests, like Michigan and Wisconsin.
In New York, on the other hand, which had a closed primary, more than 3 million unaffiliated voters were barred from the polls in an election that Clinton won by roughly a quarter-million votes.
Despite a string of losses over the last two weeks, which have mostly shut the door on his chances of winning the Democratic nomination, Sanders is promising to stay in the race, and even fight for the ticket during a contested Democratic convention in July.
A majority of Democrats support the senator’s commitment to stick with it all the way through the primary calendar. An NBC News-Survey Money poll released Tuesday found that 57 percent of Dems believe Sanders should stay in the race.