Despite Sanders’ 20-point margin of victory in Vermont’s neighboring state of New Hampshire, Senator Patrick Leahy reiterated last week that he will continue to support Clinton’s candidacy, and plans to cast his superdelegate vote in her favor.
Leahy and Sanders have served alongside each other in the Senate for almost a decade. Combined, the two men have over fifty years of experience in Washington.
Leahy has represented Vermont in the Senate since 1975, while Sanders was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1991, where he remained until his 2006 ascendance to the Senate. Both progressives, Sanders and Leahy have no drastic ideological disagreements. Nevertheless, Leahy represents the Democratic Party establishment in a way that Sanders, who only recently registered as a Democrat after decades as an Independent, does not. Leahy is a member of the Clinton campaign’s “Vermont Leadership Council,” a 25-person committee that includes state elites such as former Governor Howard Dean and incumbent Governor Peter Shumlin.
As a sitting Democratic Member of Congress, Leahy is automatically conferred the title of superdelegate – a delegate to the Democratic National Convention who is free to support any candidate for the party’s nomination, unlike a typical delegate who is bound by the primary results of his or her home state. And while Sanders is widely expected to win easily in Vermont’s March 1 primary election, Leahy says that he cannot go back on his pledge to support Clinton.
“One of the touchstones of our family – I learned it from my grandparents, I learned it from my parents and I’ve tried to teach my children – is you keep your word,” he said. “Long before Senator Sanders ever said he was going to run, I urged then-Secretary Clinton to run and told her I’d support her. I think anybody who knows me, anybody who knows my years as state’s attorney or my years in the Senate, knows that I’d never break my word. And certainly Senator Sanders would never ask me to break my word, nor has he.”
Middlebury College Professor of Political Science Bert Johnson says that Leahy’s consistency hardly comes as a surprise.
“It’s not all that unusual for a superdelegate to support someone other than the most popular candidate in the state,” Johnson said in an interview.
Indeed, as a forty-year incumbent who remains popular in his home state, Leahy recently scored a 71 percent approval rating among his constituents. Sanders is first among all Senators with 83 percent support.
Leahy has little to lose even by endorsing the eventual loser of his state’s primary. Clinton remains the Democratic front-runner by virtually any metric, and while Sanders’ resilience has proved surprising, he remains the undeniable underdog as Super
Tuesday looms on March 1. In other words, aside from his self-professed determination to keep his word, it also makes political sense for Leahy to align with the candidate who remains most likely to capture the nomination by August.
Yet if Clinton does come out on top, Johnson says that superdelegate votes like Leahy’s will probably not be the deciding factor after all.
“I would be very surprised if the superdelegates were decisive in this election,” Johnson said. “In 2008, when they had the potential to be decisive, they fell in line with the leader among elected delegates, Barack Obama, even after Hillary Clinton had a substantial lead in superdelegate endorsements early in the campaign.”
Indeed, however things shake out, Leahy made one thing clear: he is a Democrat above anything else.
“If Senator Sanders is the nominee, I’ll happily campaign all over the country for him,” said Leahy. “We’ve worked together, he’s a good friend of mine, our wives are friends and I’m proud of a lot of the issues he’s raised.”