Internal Democratic National Committee emails appear to show officials discussing using Sen. Bernie Sanders’s faith against him with voters, with one saying “my Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.” The emails were published by WikiLeaks.
The May 5 emails apparently showing party leaders conspiring against Sanders came at a time when many Democratic Party leaders were tired of the Sanders-Clinton campaign continuing and wanted to move on with a nomination of Hillary Clinton against an eventual GOP nominee. Sanders would have been the first major-ticket nominee — or president — to openly present himself as nonreligious and was not speaking much about his faith background.
Some Democrats close to party conversations about faith said the emails showed party activists anxious to move ahead in the fight against the GOP more than a drive to shut down an atheist or a Jew. But others said that such emails were a stain on the party as it aims to present Trump as intolerant against Muslims and others because of their faith.
The emails don’t mention Sanders by name.
In one email, DNC chief financial officer Brad Marshall says he wants to get the question of Sanders’s faith raised — apparently in primaries in Kentucky and West Virginia. The email was sent to DNC Communications Director Luis Miranda, Deputy Communications Director Mark Paustenbach and CEO Amy Lacey.
“It might may no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist,” reads the email.
Another Marshall email, dated a few minutes later, says, “It’s these Jesus thing.”
A few hours later Lacey responds: “Amen.”
The Kentucky primary was May 17 and West Virginia’s was May 10. Clinton won Kentucky and Sanders won West Virginia.
While the DNC did not immediately comment to the Post, The Intercept, which first reported on the WikiLeaks email, quoted Marshall Friday as saying by email that he did not “recall” the exchange. “I can say it would not have been Sanders. It would probably be about a surrogate.”
Michael Briggs, a spokesman for the Sanders’s campaign, said in an email Friday that he was unavailable to talk.
Burns Strider, who was faith adviser to the Clinton campaign in 2008 and now works with Clinton’s campaign and the DNC, said the -mails didn’t show “a serious attempt” to dig up information on Sanders.
“These are very good and decent people on this email loop. Internal loops can take a sundry directions. Frankly, had there been a real attempt made to determine Senator Sanders’ belief system I would have known about it. Yet, respect for toward Senator Sanders and his beliefs are quite clear because we don’t know what they are. No one ever pursued such a line of discovery,” Strider wrote the Post.
Someone who has worked on Democratic presidential campaigns said Friday that it seemed more like a “political calculation” than some focus on keeping out a secular candidate on principle. People who say they have “no religion” are now the single largest faith constituency of the Democratic Party, polls show.
The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the problem is more of appearance — that the email leak came as the Clinton campaign is trying to cement its status as the party of religious diversity.
“Candidates’ faith belongs in the public arena, but to weaponize that is exactly what Democrats have self-righteously accused Republicans of doing,” the person said.