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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Sanders supporters to Washington superdelegates: Switch or face challenges

Washington supporters of Bernie Sanders are taking to social media to demand the state’s superdelegates back him after his overwhelming victory in the precinct caucuses Saturday. Those who don’t should face retribution in their own coming elections, some commenters say.

The Facebook page for the state’s Sanders backers has comments like “NO SUPPORT FOR POLITICIANS WHO DO NOT SUPPORT BERNIE” and calls for independent progressives to run against incumbent Democrats.

On Thursday morning, a photo of a smiling Gov. Jay Inslee was posted with a message that he is a superdelegate and “Jay isn’t listening to the people. Jay will soon be unemployed. Don’t be like Jay.” The phone number to the governor’s office is posted nearby.

Jaime Smith, the communications director for the governor’s office, said it had received “a few hundred phone calls and a few thousand e-mails” by lunchtime Thursday. But the office can’t comment on election or campaign matters, so all the staff can do is acknowledge the message was received.

Washington has 17 automatic delegates or superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention, a group that includes eight Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation and Inslee. As a group they’re sometimes called superdelegates because they are able to support any candidate they choose. They include the eight Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation and Inslee.

Inslee and other Washington superdelegates who already had decided to support Hillary Clinton before the caucuses say they aren’t planning to switch to Sanders at this point. Several said, however, they would in the coming months if Sanders takes the lead in pledged delegates before the convention.

Superdelegates will not be deciding who will get the nomination. They will go with the will of the people,” said Kati Rutherford, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, who was selected through the caucus system as a pledged delegate for Barack Obama in 2008 and is a superdelegate this year as a congressman.

Two of Idaho’s superdelegates went from uncommitted to supporting Sanders after his strong showing in that state’s county caucuses. 

“My position before our caucus was uncommitted. I waffled back and forth because we had two really good candidates,” said Pete Gertonson, the Idaho Democratic Party’s state committeeman. “I look at that 78 percent as a pretty good indication of where I should go.”

Gertonson, a Lewiston resident, hesitated to criticize superdelegates who don’t switch based on their state’s outcome, noting that they may have long histories of supporting a candidate, but he added: “I would hope they would try to respect how the vote came out.”

Inslee and the eight Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation all announced their support for former Secretary of State Clinton months before last Saturday’s precinct caucuses, where Sanders, the independent Vermont senator, captured almost three-fourths of the delegates to the next level of the state’s nominating system. The state’s other eight superdelegates, who are top members of the state party, are uncommitted and could remain so until the end of the primaries.

Inslee attended his precinct caucus on Bainbridge Island, which Sanders won with 63 supporters to Clinton’s 62. But the governor remains convinced Clinton still will be the Democrats’ nominee, said Jamal Raab, Inslee’s spokesman for political affairs.

“He thinks she has the best chance of beating Donald Trump,” the current GOP front-runner, Raab added.

Sen. Patty Murray respects Sanders but is supporting Clinton after working with her for years, spokesman Eli Zupnick said. She remains confident Clinton will be the nominee and “an amazing voice for Washington state workers and families,” he added.

“She is very happy that Democrats in Washington state and across the country are fired up and having a robust debate about the best ways to help middle class families and grow the economy from the middle out, not the top down,” Zupnick said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell respects Sanders and the ideas and enthusiasm he brings to the election, spokesman Reid Walker said.

“She supports Secretary Clinton because the secretary is a strong advocate for the Ex-Im Bank which supports more than 80,000 jobs in Washington state,” Walker said. 

Sanders has been critical of the Export-Import Bank, a federal agency that helps provide funding for foreign customers of American products, and voted against reauthorizing it last year. Boeing relies on it for some of its foreign sales, and all members of the Washington congressional delegation voted for it to be reauthorized.

Rutherford said a key thing for Sanders supporters to remember is that superdelegates have never overturned the decision of the delegates chosen through primaries and caucuses by supporting a candidate who is not leading at the end of those contests. They aren’t expected to do so this year.

Clinton currently leads Sanders by 263 pledged delegates awarded though contests so far.

“The superdelegate system is in place to avoid us having a Trump- or Cruz-like candidate,” Rutherford said. “Washington superdelegates are not going to put Hillary over the top.” 

Jonathan Brunt contributed to this post.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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