Sanders campaign tries to have it both ways on superdelegates

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·Senior National Affairs Reporter
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Bernie Sanders at a campaign stop at Tindley Temple United Methodist Church in Philadelphia on April 6. (Photo: Matt Rourke/AP)

For months, Democratic National Committee member Billi Gosh has received letters, emails and phone calls urging her to switch her vote at the Democratic National Convention from Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders.

Gosh is one of 10 Democratic superdelegates from Vermont, Sanders’ home state, where 86 percent of voters chose him in the Democratic primary in March. Superdelegates — party and elected officials who make up about 15 percent of all Democratic delegates — can vote for whichever candidate they want, unlike pledged delegates, who are divvied up based on how each state’s Democrats voted.

“There’s been a lot of pressure on the four us,” Gosh said, referring to herself and the three other pro-Hillary superdelegates in her state, including former Gov. Howard Dean and the current Gov. Pete Shumlin. (Sanders is himself a superdelegate, and it seems fairly certain where his allegiances lie.)

Sanders supporters tell Gosh that fairness requires her to back Sanders, who was the overwhelming choice of Vermont voters. They are expanding upon an argument made by Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver in February, who insisted that superdelegates should not go against the “will of the people” and should back whichever candidate gets the most pledged delegates.

“If the people in the states choose Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, I cannot imagine that the superdelegates would overturn the will of the people in this case,” Weaver told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC.

The progressive, Sanders-backing group MoveOn.org as well as the super-PAC Progressive Kick urged idealistic Sanders supporters to take this populist fight to superdelegates. “We will not allow Democratic Party insiders to determine the outcome of this election. Democratic voters will decide the party’s nominee,” said MoveOn’s executive director in a petition against superdelegates. The supporters argue that superdelegates are not reflecting the votes of the people in their states, which they say is undemocratic and elitist.

“People think there is some sort of secret cabal going on trying to stop Bernie Sanders from getting the nomination,” said Kathy Sullivan, a New Hampshire superdelegate who received dozens of occasionally angry calls and emails.

But recently, beginning after Sanders’ landslide victories in Alaska and Washington at the end of last month, the Sanders campaign has begun singing a different tune. Even as Bernie’s supporters continue to inundate superdelegates with their anti-elitist arguments, Sanders and his top campaign officials are now arguing that superdelegates should back Bernie even in states where he didn’t win — and even if he doesn’t win a majority of the popular votes cast. The campaign also has tried to poach some Clinton-backing superdelegates.

Late last month, Sanders said on CNN that he hopes superdelegates “rethink their position with Hillary Clinton” because some polls show Sanders does better in a hypothetical matchup against Donald Trump than she does. His argument seems to be that superdelegates should back the most “electable” candidate, no matter how many votes he or she got in the state.

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Bernie Sanders greets supporters at a campaign rally in Philadelphia on April 6. (Photo: Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

But in an apparent case of trying to have his cake and eat it too, in the same interview Sanders said he was entitled to the backing of superdelegates in the states he won — the populist argument of his supporters. “And then you have got superdelegates who are in states where we win by 40 or 50 points,” he added. “I think their own constituents are going to say to them, ‘Hey, why don’t you support the people of our state, vote for Sanders?’”

What’s behind this tactical shift? One possibility is that the Sanders camp realized they would need the votes of at least some superdelegates even in the states he didn’t carry. As the Washington Post points out, caucus states, where Sanders has done the best, tend to have fewer superdelegates to award, so Clinton would still lead Sanders by several hundred superdelegates, even if you gave Sanders all of them in the states he won.

Also, the Sanders campaign has emphasized the “momentum” it’s shown — Sanders has won the past seven states in a row — as a counterweight to the fact that he is still trailing Clinton in pledged delegates and in the popular vote.

Sanders strategist Tad Devine told the Washington Post that even if Sanders is behind in the popular vote and the number of pledged delegates, “We’re going to make an argument that you should nominate Bernie Sanders.”

Devine did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News.

And last week, Weaver said on an ABC News podcast that even if Clinton has won more pledged delegates and captured a larger share of the popular vote, the campaign “absolutely” plans to contest her nomination at the convention in Philadelphia.

Stuart Appelbaum, a superdelegate in New York who backs Clinton, said he believes the focus on superdelegates is a distraction from the tough math Sanders faces in the final months of the primary. He would have to gain at least 60 percent of the vote in New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania to overtake Clinton’s pledged delegate lead.

“I really look at the discussion of superdelegates now as just really being an attempt to provide a rationale for why a candidate should stay in the race when it appears that it’s going to be mathematically impossible for them to become the nominee,” he said. “I don’t know a single superdelegate who has said they’re going to switch. I don’t expect that anyone will.”

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