Democratic Superdelegates Key to Sanders Campaign

By Harry Cramer

Bernie Sanders enjoys more popular support in Vermont than any other state in the nation. Yet even here, Sanders faces an uphill climb for the Democratic nomination. The reason: superdelegates.

As Ben Kamisar explains in the Hill, superdelegates are “state party insiders given the freedom to support any candidate they choose.”

Nationally, they are choosing Clinton over Sanders in large margins. Currently, Sanders has won the support of only 19 party-loyalists, to Clinton’s 451. Even in Vermont, of the nine superdelegates voting on Super Tuesday (March 1), four have pledged to support Hillary Clinton and three are undecided. Only two have pledged to support Sanders – including himself.

Superdelegates hurt Sanders badly in New Hampshire. Although he trounced Clinton in the state primary, winning 15 delegates to her nine, Clinton had already secured the votes of six party-loyalists, which put her at a virtual tie with Sanders.

On Super Tuesday, the Clinton campaign hopes to use superdelegate support to pull away entirely. The superdelegate system, which The Guardian has described as a ‘ticking time-bomb’ for the Democratic Primary,  were first established in 1984 by Democratic party leaders. They were designed in order to to prevent the most ideologically polarizing members of the party, who could not win in a general election, from getting nominated. They were a response to the Presidential Election of 1972, when George McGovern was trounced by Richard Nixon. McGovern was beaten in every state in the nation except for Massachusetts, and won only 37 percent of the popular vote.

In the 2016 race, superdelegates are choosing Clinton over Sanders for the same reason. “I told her if she decided to run I would support her and would be willing to do whatever she likes,” said Senator Leahy (D) of Vermont. “I’ve made no secret of that ever since then.”

Sanders has been fighting to keep the momentum moving forward. In an interview on Face the Nation last week, Sanders explained that he hoped to woo fellow superdelegates in the coming week.

“If we continue to do well around the country and if superdelegates—whose main interest in life is to make sure that we do not have a Republican in the White House—if they understand that I am the candidate…best suited to defeat the Republican nominee, I think they will start coming over to us,” Sanders said on the program.

Indeed, this is the cornerstone of the entire Sanders campaign: win early, and win big. Unlike normal delegates, superdelegates are unbound to the most popular candidates in their state, which could allow Sanders to take a larger piece of the pie even in states he does not win. The 2008 Obama campaign rode similar momentum to victory, and began at a comparable superdelegate deficit to Sanders.

On Reddit and other news forums, a grassroots effort is underway to change the superdelegate system entirely. One petition on, stating “The race for the Democratic Party nomination should be decided by who gets the most votes, and not who has the most support from party insiders,” has already gathered 175,000 signatures.

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