Next week, the Democrat primary and caucus season will come to an end with votes in California and four other states across the country.
Hillary Clinton will close out the primary contests with a solid delegate lead over Vermont socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders. Clinton, however, will not have a majority of the pledged delegates necessary to win the nomination until the party faithful gather in Philadelphia. Her nomination is dependent on the overwhelming backing of the party insiders who hold “super delegate” status.
Through the end of May and more than 45 contests, Hillary Clinton has 1,720 pledged delegates for the nomination. Sanders has 1,395 delegates. A candidate needs to secure 2,383 delegate votes to win the nomination. There are around 780 delegates still to be awarded through the remaining contests: five states, D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Given the proportional allocations rules governing Democrat contests, Clinton and Sanders likely will roughly split the remaining delegates.
In the end, Clinton will be short of the outright delegate majority she needs to win the nomination through pledged delegates, i.e. those awarded through primary and caucus contests. In other words, she cannot win the nomination on the votes of Democrats across the country alone. She will need to a large majority of “superdelegates” to become the nominee.
“Superdelegates” are a political invention of the Democrat party. Comprised of the Democrat party establishment’s insiders, they constitute almost 15 percent of the total delegates to the party’s convention. They include the roughly 450 members of the Democratic National Committee, all Democrat elected Members of Congress, Democrat Governors or chief executives and certain “Distinguished Delegates.”
The “superdelegates” cast individual votes for the nomination on the floor of the convention. They are not bound by the voting results in their state or district. California, for example, has 475 pledged delegates awarded by voters through the primary next week. The state also has 73 superdelegates who can cast their vote individually at the convention, regardless of how the state or their own congressional district votes.
Many have publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton, but they are not bound to vote for her. In the 2008 primary, Hillary Clinton enjoyed the overwhelming support of superdelegates in her primary against Barack Obama, until they defected to the eventual nominee.
Most media organizations, when reporting the delegate race between Clinton and Sanders, include the superdelegates who have expressed public support for either candidate. Under this scenario, Clinton is close to the number of delegates she needs to secure the nomination and will likely cross the threshold next week.
Even though the superdelegates aren’t bound in their votes until the convention, including their votes in Clinton’s pledged delegate count will cause the general public to believe she has won the nomination. It may not convince, however, the committed activists behind Sanders’ campaign.
This presents an enormous challenge for the Democrat party and threatens to fracture the party much more deeply than the one-time potential of a GOP “contested convention” threatened. While many Republican activists worried about behind-the-scenes maneuverings of the party establishment to dictate the nominee, for Democrats, the maneuvering is overt and public. The Democrat party actually gives its party establishment 15 percent of the total number of delegates.
Democrats, by design, have created a primary process than ensures the party hierarchy a heavy-hand in selecting its nominee. More than 25 million Democrats across the country have already voted in primaries and caucuses, but the balance of power is held by around 714 individual Democrats. Apparently all Democrats are equal, but some are more equal than others.
This situation might only be a footnote of interest to only to political historians, but for the fact that Sanders has pivoted his campaign beyond Hillary Clinton. In recent weeks, Sanders has aimed much of his campaign rhetoric against the Democrat party establishment and its process for selecting a nominee.
A couple weeks ago, Sanders endorsed the primary opponent to Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who also is Chair of the DNC. Sanders even sent an email to supporters soliciting donations for her challenger. Sanders has publicly criticized Wasserman Shultz for “rigging” the primary process to benefit Hillary Clinton. Sanders has also helped fundraise for progressive Democrat elected officials who successfully challenged the party establishment across the country.
He has promised to wage fights over the party platform at the convention in Philadelphia and push through reforms of the the party’s nomination process. Hillary Clinton’s failure to decisively fend off Sanders is fueling his challenge to the party.
A nightmare scenario for Democrats is unfolding ahead of Philadelphia. Hillary Clinton will enter the convention with more delegates than Sanders, but not enough, on her own, to win the nomination. The 714 superdelegates will very obviously have to pick the Democrat nominee. With a strong showing next week, Sanders could enter the Democrat convention with enough delegates where he, with the backing of the party insiders, could win the nomination.
In other words, Sanders will have won enough delegates through all the individual primaries and caucuses that he could become the party’s nominee if the party establishment backed him. Conversely, Hillary Clinton could become the nominee only if the party establishment threw its support behind her.
That is a very bitter pill for Sanders’ supporters to swallow.
All national and state polling shows Sanders running far stronger against Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton. Not only does he lead the presumptive Republican by double-digits nationally, he puts many currently competitive states out of play for the Republicans. Sanders has increasingly used these data points to rally his supporters on the campaign trail. It is the latest, and perhaps most compelling, argument they have against Clinton winning the nomination.
Towards the end of the Republican primary, party leaders worried that moves to deny Trump the nomination would invite charges from many of its supporters than they had “rigged” the primary process against Trump. Fears that this could blow-up the party led many to accept the reality that Trump had secured the nomination.
Democrats, however, actually have a “rigged” system, by design. They intentionally allow party insiders to tip the scales in the primary contest. Hillary Clinton’s weaknesses in the primary and her failure to fend off Sanders have brought this questionable system into the light.
The burning glare on the corrupt process may wither the bonds holding the party together.