Update: U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Sunday she will step down as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
PHILADELPHIA — Things had juuust started to turn around for national Democrats.
A brokered peace reigned among the rival Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders camps. The Republican convention last week offered plenty of ready-to-mock fodder. Presumptive nominee Clinton successfully presented Tim Kaine as her running mate at a massive Miami rally.
All was on track for the start of a scripted — and perhaps boring — Democratic National Convention on Monday in Philadelphia.
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Then came the explosive release of more than 20,000 Democratic National Committee emails — apparently obtained by Russian hackers — through the website WikiLeaks. They gave credence to what many following the Democratic primary assumed: that the party, which was supposed to remain neutral, favored Clinton over Sanders.
By late Saturday, CNN reported embattled Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz wouldn’t get a speaking slot at the convention. By Sunday, the news for the Weston congresswoman had gotten worse: She wouldn’t appear on stage at all, not even to bang a gavel to formally open and end the sessions at the Wells Fargo Center. Wasserman Schultz’s “temporary” convention chair role would go to a “permanent” chair, U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio.
Last week, Wasserman Schultz had mocked national Republican Chairman Reince Priebus in a tweet saying, “I’m in Cleveland if you need another chair to help keep your convention in order.”
The convention Wasserman Schultz organized — she was the one who picked Philly as host city — was now giving her the boot.
Sanders went back to calling for her ouster.
“I think she should resign, period,” he said Sunday morning on ABC News’ “This Week.”
“I don’t think she is qualified to be the chair of the DNC,” Sanders added on CNN’s “State of the Union,” “not only for those awful emails, which revealed the prejudice of the DNC, but also because we need a party that reaches out to working people and young people, and I don’t think her leadership style is doing that.”
After Texas Sen. Ted Cruz got heckled at the GOP convention in Cleveland last week, Democrats seemed intent on avoiding a similar debacle for Wasserman Schultz. One of their main goals in Philadelphia is to show unity and positivity the Republicans lacked.
Gleeful Republicans pounced over the weekend at the Wasserman Schultz drama, using the turmoil to underscore GOP nominee Donald Trump’s contention that the political system is “rigged” — a line Trump adopted from Sanders.
There was mostly silence on the subject from convention organizers, the national party and Wasserman Schultz’s campaign. CNN’s reporting relied on anonymous sources — but no one from the party disputed them.
Clinton’s team offered little support. Speaking to “State of the Union,” campaign manager Robby Mook blamed Russian hackers for trying to meddle in a U.S. presidential election — on Republican Trump’s behalf, Mook said.
“There’s evidence Russian state actors broke into the DNC, stole those emails, and there are experts saying they are releasing these emails for the purpose of helping Donald Trump,” he said. “It’s no coincidence these emails were released on the eve of the convention.”
He offered nothing to help Wasserman Schultz: “The DNC needs to look into this and take appropriate action,” he said on charges that the party wasn’t impartial.
And so, the key question in Florida — and national — politics heading into the Democratic convention is this:
Whither Wasserman Schultz?
Can the party chairman survive the week in that role? Can she survive Sunday? Talk about replacing her after the Nov. 8 general election, perhaps with Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, had appeased Sanders loyalists after the primary, especially after delegates wrote top Sanders priorities into the party platform and agreed to compromise on the future role of so-called “superdelegates” that helped decide the nomination. But with Sanders’ renewed push Sunday to oust Wasserman Schultz, the pressure for her to resign now might be too great.
And what could that mean for Wasserman Schultz’s reelection? Her national unpopularity has hardly hurt her in her heavily Democratic district in the past. But she has never had as significant a challenger as Nova Southeastern University law professor Tim Canova, who rode the Sanders wave and won the Vermont senator’s first congressional-race endorsement.
Wasserman Schultz is scheduled to address Florida convention delegates Monday morning.
Speaking of those breakfasts:
How’s the 2018 Democratic race for Florida governor shaping up?
Similar to how Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam used the Republican convention to wow party activists in advance of his expected 2018 run for governor, two likely Democratic contenders will speak at Florida delegation breakfasts this week. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee each got a slot — Levine on Wednesday and Graham on Thursday — to make a memorable impression on the grassroots faithful they would need to back them in two years.
Neither, however, plans the lavish spread of cheesy grits and chicken and waffles served up by Putnam.
Finally, there’s this:
Are Democrats taking Florida for granted?
To hear Clinton’s campaign tell it, the Sunshine State is a must-win for the former secretary of state. Even President Barack Obama warned political donors in Coconut Grove last month, “I want us to run scared.”
Yet this is how many Floridians have been scheduled to take the microphone at the convention floor: one.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is listed on the program — an honor for the up-and-coming African-American mayor, to be sure, but not exactly a prominent showing for the nation’s largest swing state (though Florida Democrats did get prime housing at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown).
Last week, Republicans showcased both Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi.