Skip to main content

GritPost - April 16, 2019

A widely shared New York Times article about the growing nervousness Democratic Party bosses have about Bernie Sanders includes one comment from a superdelegate that may prove controversial.

On Tuesday, the Times‘ Jonathan Martin published an in-depth look into how the party’s leadership is coping with the seemingly unstoppable surge Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is currently experiencing, going from a fringe radical candidate in 2016 to the clear frontrunner in 2020. Martin’s report shows the party establishment — as well as its chief operatives, like David Brock — is convinced an avowed Democratic socialist like Sanders would lose the general election to President Trump if nominated. And as of right now, Sanders enjoys a strong early lead.

Sen. Sanders is an obvious frontrunner in terms of fundraising, bringing in an impressive $18 million in the first quarter of 2019, with an average donation of just $20. The Vermont senator’s campaign recently recorded its millionth campaign contribution in April after just two months of campaigning — something his 2016 endeavor took five months to accomplish. And a reputable pollster (Emerson) recently ranked Sanders first out of 20 current and prospective candidates, putting him five points in front of his nearest competitor, former Vice President Joe Biden.

In the turbulent 2016 primary between Sanders and Hillary Clinton, hundreds of the party’s so-called “superdelegates” (county and state party bosses and elected officials) rallied around Clinton early, giving her an essentially insurmountable lead months before the first ballots were cast. In February of 2016, for example — just two days after the New Hampshire primary — The Guardian estimated Clinton had 355 superdelegates to Sanders’ 14. But in August of 2018, the DNC changed those rules.

Now, superdelegates don’t get to vote until the second ballot at the Democratic National Convention, meaning the first ballot is just for pledged delegates. In the Democratic Primary, anyone who gets 15% of the vote in any state’s caucus or primary is guaranteed at least some of the pledged delegates. This means that with 19 candidates currently on the ballot, it’s very possible Sanders wouldn’t get a majority of delegates needed to clinch the primary on the first ballot at the party’s convention in July of 2020.

By design, the superdelegate system is there to give a boost to the establishment’s favored candidate. In Martin’s article for the Times, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), who is a DNC superdelegate, admitted that, while reluctant to do so, she may use her vote to kneecap Sanders on the second ballot.

Should no bargain be struck by the time of the first roll call vote at the 2020 convention in Milwaukee — such as a unity ticket between a pair of the leading delegate-winners — the nomination battle would move to a second ballot. And under the new rules crafted after the 2016 race, that is when the party insiders and elected officials known as superdelegates would be able to cast a binding vote.
The specter of superdelegates deciding the nomination, particularly if Mr. Sanders is a finalist, is highly unappetizing to party officials.
“If we have a role, so be it, but I’d much prefer that it be decided in the first round, just from a unity standpoint,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

While the convention is still more than a year away, and nobody will vote for another nine months, it’s possible that the anti–Sanders superdelegate bloc will decide on their nominee after Super Tuesday in March of 2020, when roughly 40% of pledged delegates are on the line. By then, there will likely be a definitive hierarchy as to who will place in the top three, and who will bow out.