WASHINGTON – Bernie Sanders won big in New Hampshire, but Hillary Clinton is still adding to her wide lead in the delegates who will decide the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee.
Over the past week, Clinton has picked up the endorsements of 87 more party insiders known as superdelegates, according to a new Associated Press survey. Sanders added just 11 superdelegates.
If these delegates to the party’s national convention continue to back Clinton overwhelmingly – and they can change their minds – Sanders would have to win the remaining primaries by a landslide just to catch up. He would have to roll up big margins because every Democratic contest awards delegates in proportion to the vote, so even the loser can get some.
After the initial contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders has a small 36-32 lead among delegates won in primaries and caucuses. But when superdelegates are included, Clinton leads 481-55, according to the AP count. It’s essentially a parallel election that throws Clinton’s lopsided support from the Democratic establishment into stark relief.
The disparity is sparking a backlash among some of Sanders’ supporters, who complain that the Democratic nominating process is decidedly undemocratic, rigged in favor of Clinton.
Some are contacting superdelegates who have publicly endorsed Clinton, and their message isn’t subtle, or always welcome.
“I’m sick and tired of them,” Cordelia Lewis-Burks, a superdelegate from Indiana who supports Clinton, said of the Sanders backers. “It’s very aggravating to be bashed on my own computer by these people who it’s probably the first time they’ve ever voted. I’ve been in the trenches since I was 20.”
Superdelegates automatically attend the national convention and can support the candidate of their choice, regardless of whom the voters back. They are the party’s leaders – members of Congress, party officials and members of the Democratic National Committee.
There are 712 superdelegates, about 30 percent of the 2,382 delegates needed to claim the nomination at this summer’s national convention.
The Republicans also have some automatic delegates who can support the candidate of their choice but not nearly as many.
Clinton’s campaign expresses confidence that she will maintain a strong lead among superdelegates even as she focuses on upcoming primaries.
“Our campaign strategy is to build a lead with pledged delegates” won in primaries and caucuses, Clinton spokesman Jesse Ferguson said in an email.
Sanders campaign adviser Tad Devine said he doesn’t consider an early superdelegate count to be very meaningful because they are free to change their minds right up until the convention. Sanders’ ability to attract younger voters and independents, as he did in New Hampshire, will be a strong selling point to change people’s minds, he said.
“It is hardly an insurmountable lead and it can change overnight,” Devine said. “We are confident that superdelegates want to be behind the strongest candidates in a general election and have a nominee to help candidates win up and down the ballot.”
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