As Hillary Clinton's campaign seeks to project dominance in a field that could soon include Vice President Joe Biden, her top advisers are touting a decisive edge on a little-discussed metric: superdelegate commitments.
At the Democratic National Committee meeting in Minneapolis, where Clinton spoke on Friday, senior Clinton campaign officials are claiming that she has already secured one-fifth of the pledges needed to win the Democratic presidential nomination. They come from current and former elected officials, committee officeholders, and other party dignitaries.
The campaign says that Clinton currently has about 130 superdelegates publicly backing her, but a person familiar with recent conversations in Minneapolis said that officials are telling supporters and the undecided in the last few days that private commitments increase that number to more than 440—about 20 percent of the number of delegates she would need to secure the nomination.
After her speech, Clinton told reporters that her campaign's attention to delegate totals is about ensuring that her support from voters translates into the nomination. “This is really about how you put the numbers together to secure the nomination. As some of you might recall, in 2008 I got a lot of votes but I didn’t get enough delegates. And so I think it’s understandable that my focus is going to be on delegates as well as votes this time,” she said.
Clinton campaign aides at the DNC meeting are privately briefing uncommitted superdelegates there on their mounting totals as a way to coax them to get them aboard the Clinton train now. Campaign manager Robby Mook, chief administrative officer Charlie Baker, political director Amanda Renteria, and state campaigns and political engagement director Marlon Marshall are among the top Clinton aides in attendance.
Final numbers are still in flux, but current estimates peg the total number of delegates to next summer’s presidential nominating convention at about 4,491, meaning that a candidate would need 2,246 to win. The Clinton camp’s claim to more than 440 delegates means she’s already wrapped up the support of more than 60 percent of the approximately 713 superdelegates who, under party rules, are among those who cast votes for the nomination, along with delegates selected by rank-and-file voters in primaries and caucuses beginning next February. Delegate totals won’t be finalized until the DNC determines the number of bonus delegates awarded to states, a party official said.
To be sure, Clinton had a superdelegate edge early against Barack Obama in 2008, and superdelegates are free to change their allegiance at any time between now and next summer's convention. But Clinton is ahead of the pace she had eight years ago in securing these commitments, and her support from the core of the establishment represented by these superdelegates is arguably the most tangible evidence of the difficulty Biden would have overtaking her with a late-starting campaign.
While Clinton said earlier this week that Biden “should have the space and the opportunity to decide what he wants to do,” her campaign is at the same time flexing its muscles to stress the strength of her candidacy. The campaign this week unveiled its first endorsement from a sitting member of the Obama Cabinet, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who just happens to be a former governor of Iowa and who spent Wednesday touring the state with Clinton.
The Clinton campaign also released memos on Thursday touting the strength of its field operations in the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The memos include specific tallies of thousands of volunteer commitments, dozens of paid organizers, and offices opened, including 11 in Iowa.
Barring some major scandal or controversy, and given Hillary and Bill Clinton's long-standing ties to Democratic Party elites, overcoming her superdelegate edge would be quite a challenge for Biden or the major candidates already competing against her for the nomination, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
The 300-or-so gap between Clinton's public and private superdelegate commitments derives mostly from state party officials who have yet to reveal their backing of the frontrunner, but have privately pledged to cast their convention votes for the former first lady, according to the person familiar with the campaign's tally.
In their Minneapolis discussions intended to persuade additional uncommitted superdelegates to commit to Clinton, her team is taking care not to mention Biden, but the message is clear: Much of the party establishment is supporting Clinton and the math is in her favor. In 2008, Clinton’s team made a version of this argument before being overtaken by Barack Obama. After Obama took the lead in overall delegates, his campaign began to make a comparable argument about the mathematical inevitability of his ultimate victory.
The attention to delegate counts, Clinton said Friday, was the “result of the lessons that I learned the last time –how important it is to be as well-organized and focused from the very beginning on delegates and those who are superdelegates."