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Democrats pressure Sanders as rift threatens party

WASHINGTON — After months when the story of the 2016 presidential campaign focused on divided Republicans, Democrats are now showcasing divisions in their ranks.

Simmering tensions between Bernie Sanders backers and other Democrats, including party leaders, burst into the open following an ugly fracas at the Nevada Democratic Party convention over the weekend instigated by Sanders’ supporters. When top Democratic Party leaders pressured Sanders to denounce the night of chair throwing and alleged death threats he responded with defiance, terming some complaints “nonsense” and reminding the party: “Millions of Americans are outraged at establishment politics.”

Sanders continued in that tone Tuesday night after he defeated front-runner Hillary Clinton in Oregon’s primary and fought her to a neck-and-neck outcome in Kentucky. Clinton declared victory in Kentucky, but the race was too close to call at press time with a margin of just one-half of 1 percent separating the two Democrats.

“The Democratic Party is going to have to make a very, very profound and important decision,” Sanders said during a rally in Carson, California. “It can do the right thing and open its doors and welcome into the party people who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change. … I say to the leadership of the Democratic Party, open the doors, let the people in.”

Notwithstanding the outcomes in Oregon and Kentucky, Clinton remains a nearly prohibitive favorite in the delegate count and Sanders has no clear path to victory, especially with voting looming in early June in Clinton-friendly California and New Jersey.

That situation is creating frustration on both sides. Sanders backers chafe at party rules they contend are sidelining their candidate, and leading Democrats comment increasingly openly about the need for unity to defeat Donald Trump, who is making a turn to the general election that Sanders’ continued candidacy is complicating for Clinton.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., alarmed at the events in his home state on Saturday, finally succeeded in reaching Sanders by phone around midday Tuesday. Reid told reporters he impressed upon Sanders his concerns about the events in Las Vegas, including sexist and profane threats against party chairwoman Roberta Lange.

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