In wake of Sanders standoff, key DNC official warns of schism

In wake of Sanders standoff, key DNC official warns of schism
© Getty Images
Warning of a potential schism ahead of the 2016 general election, a top Democratic National Committee (DNC) figure is stressing the importance of fairness in the party’s presidential primary.
The threat of a rupture over the next several months adds to the growing pressure on DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzOfficials say fatal Pride parade crash appears to be accident Mayor: Truck running into Pride parade was 'terrorist attack' Truck kills one, barely misses Wasserman Schultz at Florida Pride event MORE, who has faced heat from fellow Democrats as campaign tensions have flared.
R.T. Rybak, one of the DNC’s five vice chairmen — and an early backer of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign — on Saturday said party leaders must be careful not to alienate Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: The center strikes back Sanders against infrastructure deal with more gas taxes, electric vehicle fees Sunday shows - Voting rights, infrastructure in the spotlight MORE’s supporters.
“There’s a big danger of a schism just like there was with Obama-Clinton, just like there was with Kerry-Dean,” he said, citing the 2008 race with Obama and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: The center strikes back Democratic clamor grows for select committee on Jan. 6 attack White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE and the 2004 contest between then-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.
“Whether people are going to vote for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, we’re going to need the collective grass roots of all of those efforts,” he said. “It’s imperative that the DNC communicate the importance of that and deliver on that.”
Prominent Democrats have questioned the DNC’s fairness in recent days, in the midst of a dispute between the Clinton and Sanders campaigns over a breach of voter files stored by the party committee and one of its vendors.  
Earlier in the week, the DNC blocked the Sanders campaign from accessing the database after it was discovered a Sanders staffer had improperly obtained proprietary voter data compiled by Clinton’s team.
The Sanders campaign quickly fired the staffer, Josh Uretsky, but claimed the breach was inadvertent and blamed the vendor, NGP VAN, for allowing a glitch that dropped the data firewall between the campaigns.
Furious over getting shut out from the voter database, which Sanders’s campaign manager called the political “death penalty,” the campaign on Friday sued the DNC.
David Axelrod, formerly President Obama’s top political adviser, warned the harsh penalty created a strong appearance of unfairness.
“W/out evidence that his hierarchy knew about data-poaching, harsh penalty v. @BernieSanders looks like @DNC is putting finger on scale,” he wrote on Twitter.
Former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who dropped out of the party’s presidential primary earlier this year, applauded Sanders for pushing back and questioned the party committee’s impartiality.
“Good for Bernie,” he tweeted. “The DNC is nothing more than an arm for the Clinton campaign.”
Rybak on Saturday applauded Wasserman Schultz’s handling of the controversy after she convened a conference call of the DNC’s leadership the day before to come up with a fair and equitable solution.
DNC spokesman Luis Miranda said Wasserman Schultz takes the committee’s role as impartial arbiter and resource very seriously.
“If she wanted to be focused on trying to elect one of the candidates over another, she wouldn’t head the DNC. She’s a member of Congress and could go and campaign for whomever if she wanted,” he said. 
“She takes very seriously the importance of the party and the responsibility it has to really set up an infrastructure and operation that’s good.”
Party officials decided on the call to grant Sanders access to the crucial voter database, while assuring Clinton’s team that her rival would not have any more access to her proprietary data and could not unfairly use any information it obtained. 
They also called for an audit to find out the facts surrounding the data breach.
“We’ve had a couple rough spots here,” Rybak said. “I hope we’ve also demonstrated in the 24 hours how a leadership team with a variety of opinions can keep doors open for all sides.”
He said officials still don’t know everything about the breach, “but we did the best we could to get them back on [the database] within 24 hours, which I think was pretty remarkable considering the complexity.”
Asked whether the Sanders campaign agreed to the audit, he said, “I believe it’s already underway.”
Miranda said the party was already following a protocol to resolve the dispute fairly before the Friday conference call and was on a path toward conducting an independent review and restoring data access for Sanders.
The dustup over the voter file has exposed lingering resentments directed at the DNC over its handling of the debates.
Clinton’s rivals, especially former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, have complained vociferously about the small number of the debates and the timing of some, which have been scheduled for nights when television viewership is likely to be low.
Saturday night’s debate conflicts with an National Football League game between the Jets and the Cowboys, and also has to vie with the opening weekend of the much-anticipated latest “Star Wars” film.
The debate schedule has fueled disagreement within the DNC’s leadership.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), another DNC vice chairwoman, claimed in October that she was disinvited from party’s first debate in Las Vegas after she raised concerns over the number of debates.
Miranda disputed the suspicions some Democrats harbor that the party has tried to reduce debate time and viewership to shield Clinton from attacks and to make it harder for opponents to gain exposure.
“If you look at the viewership of 2008 and 2012 debates for both Republicans and Democrats, it was far lower than the 8.5 million at the Iowa debate that was on a Saturday,” Miranda said, referring to a debate at Drake University on Nov. 14.  
He noted the only debates of the 2008 Democratic presidential primary that had bigger viewership took place at the height of the contest between Clinton and Obama.
He said party officials decided to “concentrate viewership” by “not debating every three days.”
He added that half the Democratic debates are on weekends and half on weekdays.