Outrage over Democratic superdelegates is growing among Bernie Sanders' supporters, as the presidential candidate and his backers work to combat a system they decry as "undemocratic and fundamentally unfair to primary voters."
Discontent began percolating last week, after Sanders and rival Hillary Clinton walked away with the same number of New Hampshire delegates despite the Vermont senator's decisive win in the Granite State primary on Tuesday. The counter-intuitive distribution of delegates was attributed to Clinton's lead among so-called superdelegates—state party elites and elected officials empowered to line up behind the candidate of their choosing.
Now, "Sanders supporters are fighting back," Politico reports:
Pro-Sanders threads on Reddit have been burning up with calls for action, with some supporters even reaching out to superdelegates (who are typically Democratic governors, members of Congress, and top state and national party leaders) to lobby them on the Vermont senator’s behalf. Progressive groups are also taking a stand: There are currently two petition campaigns designed to urge superdelegates to reflect the popular vote, rather than the sentiment of party elites.
Sanders said Sunday on Face the Nation that he'd "just met with a couple [superdelegates] last night" in an effort to woo them to his side.
"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...who is best suited to defeat the Republican nominee I think they will start coming over to us," the Vermont senator said in an interview.
Meanwhile, the petitions—each of which had gathered more than 115,000 signatures as of Monday morning—are aimed at showing individual superdelegates "that the grassroots base of the Democratic party wants you to support the will of the party electorate," MoveOn Washington director Ben Wikler told Politico.
But when asked by CNN's Jake Tapper last week what to tell new voters "who say this makes them feel like it's all rigged," Democratic National Committee DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz responded in part: "Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don't have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists."
Not only did her answer have "almost nothing to do with the question," as reporter Callum Borchers wrote at the Washington Post, it betrayed a fundamental pro-establishment bias that has pervaded this campaign, staff writer Ben Norton argued at Salon.
"Unelected superdelegates have been overwhelmingly backing Hillary Clinton in the presidential campaign," noted Norton. "Clinton, who has received many millions of dollars from Wall Street and was long seen as the assumed Democratic candidate, is beginning to sweat, while Sanders' enormous grassroots campaign continues to grow."
On Sunday, a different DNC official continued defending the "complicated" nomination process, writing in a blog post that the system "is open and inclusive, [and] it provides an opportunity for anyone to run and participate in our presidential nominating convention."
That system, however, could work against Clinton in the long term. As Nate Silver wrote at FiveThirtyEight on Friday:
Unlike elected delegates, superdelegates are unbound to any candidate even on the first ballot. They can switch whenever they like, and some of them probably will switch to Sanders if he extends his winning streak into more diverse states and eventually appears to have more of a mandate than Clinton among Democratic voters.
Clinton knows this all too well; it’s exactly what happened to her in 2008 during her loss to Barack Obama. According to the website Democratic Convention Watch, Clinton began with a substantial advantage in superdelegates, leading Obama 154 to 50 when New Hampshire voted on Jan. 8, 2008. Obama narrowed his deficit in February and March, however, and overtook Clinton in superdelegates in mid-May. By the time Clinton ended her campaign on June 7, 2008, Obama had nearly a 2-to-1 superdelegate advantage over her.
The Hill has a round-up of where superdelegates currently stand in Nevada and South Carolina, which hold their caucus and primary on February 20 and 27, respectively.