Editor’s note: The following column originally appeared in The Hill newspaper and on TheHill.com.
Tuesday is the Wisconsin Democratic primary, which most polls show that Bernie Sanders will win. The Vermont senator and his campaign leaders have been all over the media in the last several weeks calling on Hillary Clinton–committed superdelegates to switch to Sanders. Their argument: Sanders is the more popular candidate and thus such a switch would be consistent with “small d” democratic principles.
Sanders is making this argument because he has done the math and knows that this is his most realistic way to capture the Democratic nomination.
So far, in the 35 primaries and caucuses prior to Wisconsin, Clinton has won a total of 1,712 delegates (1,243 elected pledged delegates, 469 superdelegates), while Sanders has 1,011 delegates (980 pledged, 31 superdelegates). Thus, before Wisconsin votes, Clinton leads by 701 delegates. According to a story on Sunday by the Associated Press, this means “Sanders must win about 67 percent of the remaining delegates and uncommitted superdelegates … through June to be able to clinch the Democratic nomination.”
This is made even more difficult by the nature of the remaining 22 contests.
They include only three more caucuses (a system that favors Sanders, as we have seen, since the low-turnout caucuses, as compared to primaries, give progressive activists a decided advantage).
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Moreover, 13 out of the 22 primaries are “closed,” meaning only registered Democrats can vote. This heavily favors Clinton, based on past results, since Clinton has consistently received double-digit margins among Democrats over Sanders. This might be a result of Sanders insisting through the years that he is not a Democrat, since he previously ran as an independent. He’s only recently called himself a Democrat. Clinton has benefited from primaries limited to registered Democrats because Sanders cannot compete with her decades of work and support for the Democratic Party, its principles and candidates, and her substantial following among Democrats across the country.
So it appears that, realistically, the best way Sanders can win the nomination is to persuade large numbers of superdelegates publicly committed to Clinton to switch and support Sanders because, as the Vermont senator argues, to do so would be faithful to “small d” democratic principles.
Of course, that argument is contradicted by the facts: By any measure of democracy, Clinton is winning by a large margin and deserves the support of superdelegates.
First, she has won 2.5 million more votes than Sanders in the 35 Democratic primaries and caucuses held so far, a landslide margin of 58 percent to 42 percent to date.
Second, Clinton leads among elected pledged delegates from those 35 contests by 263 delegates – 1,243 to 980, or 56 percent to 44 percent. Last time I looked, elected pledged delegates were a product of democratic processes.
Finally, superdelegates hardly can be described as “anti-democratic.” To the contrary. I was a Democratic National Committee member elected by hundreds of Democratic committee members from Maryland in 1982 when superdelegates were first created. We did so by a large margin (I believe the vote was nearly unanimous) because we believed elected governors, senators and House members, who received millions or hundreds of thousands of votes, were far more representative of the broad electorate — racially, economically, religiously, ideologically — than the relatively small fraction of eligible Democrats and independents who participated in party primaries and particularly the low-turnout caucuses.
It is a somewhat amazing argument that delegates elected in the Idaho Democratic caucuses, where just 24,000 voters turned out statewide and where Sanders won by a margin of 14,000 votes over Clinton, reflect a more democratic choice than senators who are elected with millions of votes. I guess it depends on your definition of “democracy.”
In any event, the party rules were adopted many years ago allowing superdelegates to be unpledged delegates because of their status as elected and party officials. The rules allowing superdelegates to vote at the 2016 convention were specifically approved by the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Let’s remember that DNC members are democratically elected by Democratic Party officials from virtually all of the states and jurisdictions that participate in caucuses and primary elections.
Surely, Sanders cannot be seeking the votes of superdelegates at the same time he is repudiating their right to vote as unpledged delegates.
Surely, he cannot be thinking about changing the rules of the game after the game is in process — simply because he is behind.
Surely, the senator can’t claim with a straight face that, although he is behind Clinton by 2.5 million votes as of now, democratic principles dictate that superdelegates committed to Clinton should switch to him.
Surely he can’t.
But if he does, will the media let him get away with it?
Click here to read this post on The Hill.
Lanny Davis served as special counsel to former President Bill Clinton and is principal in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis Associates, and is executive vice president of the strategic communications firm LEVICK. A columnist for The Hill, he is the author of the book, “Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping With Crises in Business, Politics, and Life,” (Simon Schuster March 2013). Follow him on Twitter at @LannyDavis.