Skip to main content

In this week's survey, readers overwhelming indicated —by 84%—that they feel the Democratic Party's superdelegate system diminishes our democratic process.

Superdelegate Math

The "Not So Super" Delegates—Dick Price

As Liz, one survey respondent, observed: "The problem with superdelegates is that they solve one problem while creating another. The intent is to avoid special interest groups taking over a mainstream party and no-one would deny that the Tea Party and Trump followers on the Republican side need some moderating. On the other hand they can entrench a leadership whose time has passed."

How Did We Get In This Fix?

After suffering crushing defeats in Sen. George McGovern's 1972 loss to Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter's second-term obliteration by Ronald Reagan in 1980, the Democratic Party adopted a set of reforms in 1982 designed to counter what party insiders considered an electability problem.

By assembling a group of "older, more experienced, more moderate and more loyal" party insiders, Democratic Party leaders hoped to develop a more controllable process that would steer the convention nomination to mainstream candidates, away from populist insurgents like McGovern or Washington outsiders like Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter. In essence, they sought to funnel the final say through a sieve of insiders who "know better"—in effect, they purposely wanted to make the process less democratic, to answer our survey's question.

The plan got off to a less than auspicious start in the 1984 election, when Walter Mondale, Carter's Vice President and a long-time senator, wrested the nomination away from Gary Hart and Jesse Jackson, much thanks to party leadership and superdelegate support, only to be shellacked again by Ronald Reagan, winning only his home state of Minnesota and Washington D.C.

Following that election, you've got Republican Presidents George Bush 41 and 43 sandwiched around eight years of Democrat Bill Clinton, who took the White House largely by triangulating the Democratic Party heavily to the right, on welfare reform and criminal justice issues, and by cozying up to Wall Street's deep pockets.

Now in 2016, the superdelegate system has moved front and center.

Superdelegates and Bernie

Bernie Sanders is precisely the kind of populist insurgent the superdelegate system was intended to contain—an older, small-state senator with a Brooklyn accent and thinning hair, not even really a Democrat.

Here's the problem for the Bernie Sanders' campaign. He is precisely the kind of populist insurgent the superdelegate system was intended to contain—an older, small-state senator with a Brooklyn accent and a bad haircut, not even really a Democrat. Did we say Democratic Socialist? Did we say 74 years old? Did we say Jewish? And Hillary Clinton is the quintessential party insider, having spent at least a quarter century most visibly in the center of Democratic Party affairs, pulling levers, making deals, lining up allies, filling her coffers to overflowing.

And since Hillary has been running for president for at least a decade, she has mastered a plan to leverage the superdelegate system to her advantage, signing up a great many of the 719 superdelegates long before the race began, thus closing off any potential challenger before the starting gun sounded.

Then her campaign has most effectively won over mainstream media outlets—think especially CNN and MSNBC, but also the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times—to routinely report the running tab of Hillary's pledged delegates, but also including the superdelegates who have unofficially indicated their support for her.

So, currently, news reports often say that Hillary leads Bernie 2165 to 1357 in delegates, making her lead seem insurmountable on her way to the nomination. When she gains a state, the talking heads fall over themselves to crow that the primary race is over and it's high time Hillary "pivot" toward her likely Republican challenger. But if Bernie wins eight states in a row, there's always a reason, an excuse—they're all white states, they're all small states—and he should throw in the towel in the name of party unity.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

But the fact is that Hillary only leads 1662 to 1373 pledged, committed delegates democratically won, which all but guarantees that neither candidate will march into the Philadelphia convention with the 2382 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

Only then, in Philly, do the Who Needs Superdelegates?

">719 "superdelegates" cast their actual votes, and since this convention will surely be contested, their votes will matter dramatically. It may well be true that 520 superdelegates have indicated their support for Clinton and only 39 for Sanders, but they are all free to change their mind—and often have at past conventions.

Superdelegate Math

The Glimmer of Hope

In the Dick and Sharon collective, I'm known as the "glass half full" guy. It's just a central part of my nature to look for the bright light at the end of the tunnel, ignoring as best I can the possibility that it might be yet another freight train.

Given that July's convention in Philadelphia will be a contested one, is it impossible that Bernie will burst onto the convention floor on a roll? Isn't it just possible that he'll do well in upcoming contests in states like West Virginia and New Mexico and Montana and North and South Dakota—and maybe even tomorrow's Indiana primary? Isn't he likely to win convincingly in Oregon? And then what if he captures the biggest prize of them all, right here in California, by the large margin some are now predicting?

Delegate math says Bernie can't come to Philadelphia with a pledged delegate lead. But that same delegate math, combined with a powerful run through the upcoming primary states, says he's likely to narrow the gap. He could come in close, with momentum, leaving behind a trail of hugely well-attended rallies—27,000 here in LA last July, 40,000 crowding the streets of lower Manhattan just recently, c'mon— and having invented an amazing crowd-funding apparatus that has effectively circumvented Citizens United depredations.

It seems not impossible that a fair number of superdelegates will contrast Bernie's tidal wave of support among old and young alike—and especially the young—against an increasingly angry, creaky candidate and her finger-wagging hubby who together can't fill a high school auditorium in Indianapolis two days before the Indiana primary, and say, "hey, wait a minute."

It seems not impossible that a fair number of them will take the long view, realizing that the Democratic Party could capture a generation of increasingly left-leaning younger voters—for their lifetimes—who will put increasingly progressive Democrats, maybe even Social Democrats, into office, winning the White House for decades to come, helping to recapture Congress, and making inroads into the many statehouses that have fallen into Tea Party hands, especially as the Republican Party seems about to implode.

Glass half full, as I said. The other option is for these superdelegates to take the short view, going with the anointed candidate, securing their own next election victory, keeping their places in the pecking order—and alienating this whole new generation that has gotten swept up in Bernie's campaign.

dick-price-hat

Then we'll have a Clinton-Booker or Clinton-Castro ticket up against Donald Trump and John Kasich or Trump and Nikki Haley. Early Vegas odds make that even money.

Dick Price
Editor, LA Progressive