Sanders' Plan to Win Over Clinton Superdelegates More Rhetoric Than Action
Bernie Sanders' effort to persuade Democratic superdelegates to switch to his side from Hillary Clinton's so far is more a rhetorical flourish than an active campaign.
As Clinton has widened her lead over Sanders in pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses over the past month, the Vermont senator has turned to making a case to the more than 700 party officials and office holders who are unbound delegates to the national convention. His argument: he's “entitled” to the superdelegates from states he's won and he'd be the stronger candidate to face off against Republican Donald Trump in the general election.
While that's helped buoy Sanders' supporters and donors, it hasn't done much to chip away at Clinton's overwhelming lead in the nominating race.
Tad Devine, Sanders' senior adviser, said the campaign is making an effort to sway the superdelegates who haven't yet publicly committed to either Sanders or Clinton. But that universe, an estimated 152 superdelegates, would make only a small dent in Clinton's lead. Devine said they won't start “aggressive outreach” to Clinton backers until after the last primary in June.
“We’re not going to spend a lot of time talking to people who’ve made a public endorsement until we feel we’ve got to the best possible moment to make that kind of appeal, and to us that’s going to come after the voting,'' he said.
The effort is constrained by time and the numbers. Clinton has 2,205 delegates, including 522 superdelegates, according to a tally by the Associated Press. That's 178 short of the 2,383 needed to win the Democratic nomination. Sanders' delegate count stands at 1,401, and just 39 of those are superdelegates.
The states still to hold nominating contests have 1,114 delegates total, including unpledged superdelegates. Most of those are in California, the most populous U.S. state, with 546 delegates, and New Jersey, which has 142.
“If it turns out we have a great run from now until the end,'' Devine said, "then we think we have a real chance of pulling together enough votes to be the nominee of the party.”
The Sanders campaign has a team of staffers keeping track of calls to superdelegates and where they stand, according to a Sanders aide who works on political outreach. Over the course of the race, the campaign has reached out at some point to every superdelegate either in person, over the phone, by e-mail, or a weekly newsletter, said the aide, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly about internal operations. Those efforts aren't direct appeals for support as much as attempts to form connections, mainly with state party organizations, the aide said.
As part of that effort, the campaign donated Sanders merchandise to an auction being held by the South Dakota Democratic party and, along with the Clinton campaign, helped the Idaho Democratic party fund their caucus.
The effort has yielded modest results. Christopher Regan, a superdelegate backing Sanders and the vice chairman of the West Virginia Democratic party, wrote in an e-mail that the senator's campaign reached out to him either late last year or earlier this year. He endorsed Sanders on Jan. 30 and has since appeared at his campaign rallies in the state.
Sanders has also met with some superdelegates through his campaigning. Bert Marley, the state chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party, said that he briefly met Sanders when he attended a March campaign rally the senator held in Idaho Falls ahead of the state’s caucus. Marley said that Sanders asked for his support, to which he said he would if Sanders did well in the state's caucus. He kept the promise after Sanders won 78 percent of the vote.
“I felt like it was incumbent upon me to represent what our Democrats around the state were telling us,” Marley said.
Flipping Clinton's backers
Marley is the exception to the rule. Clinton has won the majority of the superdelegates in nearly every state Sanders has won. At a Sunday news conference in Washington, the campaign provided a handout illustrating the deficit. “If I win a state with 70 percent of the vote, you know what? I think I am entitled to those superdelegates,” Sanders said Sunday.
If the Sanders campaign wins enough pledged delegates between now and June to justify an effort to win over superdelegates, they'll be starting several months behind Clinton. Blanca O'Leary, an at-large Democratic National Committee member from Colorado, said that she endorsed Clinton last August, after her campaign sought her support. She said she “never received anything,” not even an e-mail from the Sanders campaign.
Instead, she has received e-mails, tweets, and Facebook messages from Sanders supporters trying to sway her. “Mostly they’ve been polite people,” she said, though she said other DNC members have had different experiences.
The Sanders campaign has disavowed and discouraged volunteers from contacting superdelegates, but as Sanders has talked more about superdelegates, some have noticed increased outreach on social media and via e-mail.
Marge Hoffa, the vice chairwoman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said she also hadn't been in touch with the campaign, but had heard from Sanders' supporters. She said that in recent weeks, the intensity of that outreach has increased. “I just want this to go away,” Hoffa said.
Hoffa said her main reason for supporting the front-runner is her lead in pledged delegates.
“That is what I said from the beginning,” Hoffa said. “I said I will support her, but if Bernie Sanders ends up with more pledged delegates I will give him my support at the convention because I'm not going to change what the majority of people out there want.”