Judith Whitmer, the chair of the insurgent party that wrested control of the party from top Democrats, faces a challenge in her re-election campaign next month amid doubts from her own former supporters and accusations that she abandoned her progressive principles. And even key figures in Bernie’s world, including Sanders himself, say they are unhappy and bitter about what happened.

“The senator is quite disappointed with Judith’s presidency, specifically her inability to build a strong grassroots movement in the state,” said a person familiar with Sanders’ thinking. “Many of us feel sad about what could have been. It was a great opportunity for Bernie-aligned people in the state to prove some people in the establishment wrong. And that hasn’t happened.»

The situation has left Sanders’ coalition in Nevada fragmented just at the start of the critical 2024 election. And it has sparked broader 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 progressives to gain control of a state party machine.

“There has just been a complete lack of competence or ability to accomplish anything meaningful,” said Peter Koltak, a Democratic strategist and former Nevada top adviser to Sanders’ 2020 campaign, to the party’s current state leadership. «Look, there are a lot of well-meaning activists involved there, but they don’t understand the ins and outs of how you build modern campaigns.»

In an interview, Whitmer expressed surprise at Sanders’ disappointment, pointing to a meeting she had with him earlier this year: «I think he would have said to me, ‘Hey Judith, I’m disappointed in what you’re doing’ if that was it.» actually a true statement.”

But even for the most optimistic-minded liberal in the state, the state of disorder among the progressive movement in Nevada represents a striking change from 2021.

Back then, former Sanders aides, members of the Democratic Socialists of America and other progressives banded together to elect Whitmer after working on Sanders’ victory in the Nevada presidential caucus a year earlier. Sanders was part of the effort, sending text messages from his political committee to encourage people to run for party seats and later raising funds for the state party. At the time, Whitmer vowed to make the state party «hold the people accountable,» renew its outreach efforts, and leverage the national party to make Nevada the first primary in the nation.

The state party did not take Whitmer’s victory lightly. Shortly before it was sealed, party staffers, in an apparent act of protest, transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars from their own coffers to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and then resigned from their posts. Once Whitmer took over, the Reid machine bypassed the state party and mounted a coordinated campaign out of a local party in the state’s second-largest county. Officials insisted it was necessary because Whitmer lacked experience winning elections on the battlefield.

“The previous administration pretty much burned the house down,” Whitmer said. “When we received the keys, there was a lot of reorganization to do. Records were missing and money had been transferred.”

Whitmer’s critics, including those on the progressive wing, counter that any faults were largely his. She was accused of having poor relations with elected officials, being a poor fundraiser, failing to build the grassroots organizing infrastructure she promised and antagonizing party leaders.

She has been criticized for the state party’s decision to endorse a sheriff who appeared to support chokeholds, as well as a candidate for lieutenant governor, Debra March, who introduced the incumbent Democratic lieutenant governor, who had been appointed by the then-governor. . Steve Sisolak. She was also accused of trying to rig the March 4 election to head the state party by removing members of the state central committee, which elects the president.

Nevada was the only state where the incumbent governor, a Democrat, lost in 2022. Beyond Sisolak’s loss, Whitmer’s critics point out that Nevada did not take first place on the Democrats’ new presidential nominating schedule.

“They had to create a separate coordinated campaign, which I think created a lot of confusion for a few months. And it wasn’t as united as it could have been,” said Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, a Democrat who supports Sanders and ran against Whitmer in 2021. “[Sisolak] lost by a very small minority. If we could have gotten our voter registration or outreach efforts earlier, he might have won.»

Democratic state senators, House members and other state officials have endorsed Whitmer’s opponent, Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, who is challenging her for state president.

But it’s not just the types of establishments that have complaints. Kara Hall, leader of the Las Vegas chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, said Whitmer also hasn’t had relationships with the left. “After she was cast, she never spoke out and spoke to the chapter,” Hall said.

The Las Vegas DSA, which played a key role in helping select Whitmer two years ago, announced this month in a scathing statement that it did not support his re-election.

“This is our lesson, and we hope socialists around the world will pay close attention: the Democratic Party is a dead end,” it read. “It’s a ‘party’ in name only; truly, it is simply a tangled web of dark money and mega-donors, cynical consultants and lap politicians.”

Whitmer defended her tenure at POLITICO, arguing that she was elected to make the change and delivered, bringing party infrastructure to rural areas, raising money through small donations and holding legislative roundtables. She also said the state party successfully ran a federal candidate mailing program and made more than 1 million direct voter contacts.

“The state party has never invested resources in rural communities,” he said. “In fact, we provide resources and send computer equipment and printers to each of our rural parties in the county.”

Whitmer also hit back at critics who said he is rigging the chairman’s election, describing the removal of committee members who have not attended recent meetings as «standard practice.»

As for the state party’s endorsement of March for lieutenant governor, he said it initially came at a time when Sisolak’s team had told him he would not make an appointment. (A Sisolak campaign source said the governor never publicly decided not to appoint someone.) Whitmer said the party supported Kevin McMahill, the sheriff’s candidate, as a way to «keep extremists out of office.»

As Whitmer sees it, the criticism he endured from his own progressive brethren was not because he abandoned principle, but because he chose to work within political realities.

“They really didn’t want to do electoral politics,” he said. “They wanted to work outside of the current electoral system. As state party chairman, I can’t do that. I can’t work outside the system itself. I represent the Democratic Party. I do not represent the DSA.»

Hall, the DSA leader, disputed Whitmer’s claim that the group opposed election politics, noting that the local chapter voted to make election research and recruiting a priority. But he said he now sees the Democratic Party as a dead end, not because of Whitmer or even because of their broken relationship.

“It has more to do with how the establishment reacted” to Whitmer’s victory, he said. “We did it the right way. We take a seat in the [state central committee]. They chose us. we vote. We outperform them in organization. And then they just set up shop somewhere else. What I think about it is that they will always do that.”

While the disappointment with Whitmer has left the future of the Nevada Democratic Party in a state of deep uncertainty, it has also raised broader questions. For veterans of the Reid machine, those questions center on how to maneuver through the critical cycle of 2024 without further fracturing the party. For Bernie’s supporters, it’s whether it’s worth taking control of state parties.

“I think this is a lesson learned that maybe that’s not the best use of time,” said a former Sanders staffer in Nevada, adding that the progressive movement in the state has now receded. “It really seems like any effort to elect progressive or leftist candidates here is back to square one. Whereas when Judith took on this role, there really was a foundation that she could have continued to build on.»