Bernie Sanders says superdelegates are unfair. True?

In his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders argues that the free-to-choose 'superdelegates' should align with the voters within their own states. But their role wasn't conceived that way. 

Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally at the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne in Fort Wayne, Indiana on May 2.

Is Hillary Clinton’s edge in Democratic superdelegates over Bernie Sanders unfair?

That’s what Senator Sanders argued during a press conference Sunday in Washington. He pointed out that he’s won 45 percent of the regular-strength pledged delegates to this point, but only 7 percent of the superdelegates, unpledged party officials and other VIPs who can vote for whomever they want.

More of those superdelegates should be supporting him, Sanders said, since many are from states he won. He took 59 percent of the vote in Colorado’s Democratic caucus, for instance, but the state’s 10 superdelegates all back the former secretary of State. He won Washington State’s caucuses by 73 to 27 percent, but again all 10 of the state superdelegates are in the Clinton camp.

“If I win a state with 70 percent of the vote, you know what? I think I am entitled to those superdelegates,” Sanders said.

In addition, he stands a better chance than Clinton of beating Donald Trump, Sanders said. Many polls show he does better in a head-to-head matchup, and the excitement he generates will bring more Democrats to the polls, in his view.

“This is an important reality that superdelegates cannot ignore,” Sanders concluded.

Well, it’s true the 712 Democratic superdelegates are going to play an important role in the nomination process. Sanders pointed out that it’s unlikely Clinton will reach the convention with enough pledged delegates to win the nomination, so she’ll need superdelegates to put her over the top.

But as we’ve written before, superdelegates were created for the role Sanders is complaining about. Party leaders opted for superdelegates in 1984 as a way to increase their influence after a string of what they felt to be weak Democratic presidential nominees. They’re supposed to be free agents, able to differ from the conclusion of voters in their states.

Lots of them see Sanders as a weaker November candidate. Head-to-head polls at this point are not very accurate. Sanders hasn’t yet faced a barrage of Republican ads painting him as just short of the second coming of Vladimir Lenin.

In any case, Sanders is pushing for something that wouldn’t help him all that much. Redistributing superdelegates in proportion to states won, he’d still be way behind in superdelegates. The Washington Post ran this exercise several weeks ago, and they figured Clinton would lead in this category 260 to 138 if a winning candidate received all delegates, including superdelegates, in each state.

Given Sanders’s deficit of 327 in pledged delegates, that would still equal Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

The bottom line is that if superdelegates thought the nomination race was razor-close, and that Sanders was gaining strength and might be a superior nominee, many would switch. But it isn’t close, and Clinton has continued to maintain a wide lead. In the end, they’re not Clinton’s secret weapons. They’re a means to reinforce a party-establishment role in the nomination process.

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