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Why The California Delegation Has Created Such A Ruckus At The DNC

We’ll be reporting from Philadelphia all week and live-blogging each night. Check out all our dispatches from the Democratic convention here.

PHILADELPHIA — Spreading through the better parts of sections 104, 105 and 106 of the Wells Fargo Center, California’s delegation has been at the center of every stadium drama at this week’s Democratic National Convention. The much-talked-about Monday boos? California started them. The powerful chanting that overtook the arena Wednesday night during former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s remarks? California played a key role.

Hillary Clinton is speaking tonight, and given her divisiveness as a candidate within the Democratic Party, many are nervous about the sort of reception she’ll get during her prime-time remarks. If very recent history is any guide, and Clinton is booed, California will be behind it. So why is the American land of milk and honey seemingly so angry and divided?

Ben Muirhead, 23, a Bernie Sanders delegate from Santa Clara, chalked up the state’s unruliness in large part to its size — there are 551 California delegates altogether, and although Clinton won the state, Sanders supporters are still numerous and are more likely to be in the state’s stadium seats during the proceedings. “They’re high-propensity delegates, if you will,” Muirhead said, pointing out that many of the state’s more than 70 superdelegates, most of whom are for Clinton, are often out roving around the stadium or attending outside events. Many of the Sanders-supporting delegates are attending their first convention.

Margarita Lacabe of San Leandro, another Sanders delegate, agreed that many in their ranks were new to the process.

“Maybe 5 percent have party experience,” she said, referring to the caucus of Sanders supporters within the delegation.

When I met Lacabe, she was standing on the steps of section 105, directing Clinton supporters to the lower seats in the section and Sanders supporters to the seats in the upper portion.

The self-segregation was for the best, Lacabe said: “So they can celebrate and we can protest, and we won’t get in each other’s way.”

The Sanders protesters had discussed before the convention what actions they would and would not take in protest, Lacabe said. But those plans didn’t quite work out.

“The things we said we weren’t going to do we ended up doing on the first day,” she said, referring to the booing.

Lacabe said she didn’t regret it, though — many of the newer California delegates felt dismissed by Clinton supporters on the first day, and the boos had arisen organically. The full California contingent, Sanders and Clinton supporters, had yet to meet up, but Lacabe said about 100 people attended a recent Sanders caucus meeting. Would there be more chanting during Clinton’s speech?

“The plan is to chant at the appropriate moment,” she said, also hinting that mentions of war would perhaps receive the same treatment they had during Panetta’s speech.

Muirhead, who said he has not been part of the chanting crowd, said that given California’s late position in the primary schedule, many of its delegates were elected during a less-than-idyllic period of the campaign.

“I think they knew the end was coming,” he said of the Sanders supporters. “The arguments for sticking around were getting more desperate, and a lot of California delegates are more steeped in the ‘system is rigged’ argument.”

Muirhead seemed a bit tentative about what might happen tonight but was ultimately sympathetic to his fellow Sanders delegates.

“These are good folks. They’re passionate about the cause.”


VIDEO: Sanders protesters stage a sit-in at the convention

Clare Malone is a senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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