Sanders takes different position on superdelegates than he did in 2008

Sanders takes different position on superdelegates than he did in 2008
© Greg Nash

Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Democratic tensions will only get worse as left loses patience McConnell seeks to divide and conquer Democrats Socially-distanced 'action figure' photo of G7 leaders goes viral MORE’s suggestion that he might fight for the presidential nomination all the way to July’s Democratic National Convention runs counter to the position he adopted in 2008. 

Now, Sanders’s aides argue that only pledged delegates, not superdelegates, should be counted when weighing support for him and front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden prepares to confront Putin Ending the same-sex marriage wars Trump asks Biden to give Putin his 'warmest regards' MORE. But in 2008, Sanders backed then-Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaEnding the same-sex marriage wars Arizona election audit draws Republican tourists Biden tries to erase Trump's 'America First' on world stage MORE as the presumptive nominee even though Obama too lacked enough pledged delegates to win outright.


When superdelegates — party leaders who can vote for any candidate — are factored in this year, Clinton is closing in on the nomination.

Altogether, she needs the support of 78 more delegates to secure a majority, according to The Associated Press’s count. She is on pace to surpass that threshold comfortably by the time the last Democratic primary takes place, in the District of Columbia, on June 14.

If superdelegates are not considered, however, neither Clinton nor Sanders would likely have enough support to clinch the nomination before the national convention.

Sanders’s campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, said on CNN’s “New Day” last month that superdelegates “don’t count until they vote, and they don’t vote until we get to the convention. … So when we arrive at the convention, it will be an open convention, likely with neither candidate having a majority of pledged delegates.”

But Sanders struck a different tone in 2008, when he told his hometown newspaper, the Burlington Free Press in Vermont, that he planned to “play a very active role” in supporting Obama.

“I will do everything I can to see that he is elected president,” he said at the time.

That interview was published on June 5, 2008, two days after the last Democratic contests but two days before Clinton suspended her campaign.

The story also noted that “Sanders said he held off supporting either of the Democrats because he has made it a custom not to support any Democrat for the presidential nomination until the party had chosen its nominee.”

At that point, however, Obama had 1,766.5 pledged delegates and Clinton had 1,639.5, according to data from RealClearPolitics. In 2008, 2,118 total delegates were required to secure the nomination. 

At present, Clinton has 1,768 pledged delegates to Sanders’s 1,497, according to the AP. But the news service also counts Clinton as having the backing of 537 superdelegates to only 42 for Sanders.

Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Sanders, told The Hill that the situation in 2008 was very different because “by June of 2008, it was very clear to everyone that Obama was going to be the nominee.”

Devine also cautioned against prejudging the outcome of the remaining primaries. He noted that New Jersey and California had both voted in March 2008, whereas this year primaries in both states are only now “coming down the pike.”

There has been persistent gossip in political circles that Devine takes a less rigid view than Weaver of the imperative for the Sanders campaign to carry the fight to the convention. Devine laughed at the idea that he and Weaver hold different views, but he also seemed more equivocal about what would happen if Sanders still lagged in pledged delegates after the final

“I think we have to see where we are. If he is one behind, that is different from where he is 350 behind. Is there a credible way between then and the convention to get superdelegates to move toward him?” Devine said. “We’ll see where we are, and we will have to assess whether we can make that kind of argument to people.” 

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Still, the idea of superdelegates moving en masse to Sanders — when Clinton seems all but certain to finish the process with more votes and more pledged delegates — has been met with sometimes scathing skepticism from unaligned Democrats.

Asked whether that might happen, Massachusetts-based strategist Brad Bannon laughed and said, “I might be playing shortstop for the Red Sox this season, too.” 

Of the push to go to the convention, Bannon added, “I don’t see what the Sanders people feel they can get out of this. It just makes no sense.” 

Another Democratic strategist, Hank Sheinkopf, suggested that the continued efforts from the Sanders campaign could cause a degree of harm to Clinton, assuming she is the nominee.

“It’s quite clear that there is a limited possibility that he will be the nominee,” Sheinkopf said. “But his attacks can do some damage to Secretary Clinton by reminding people that she is not on the left of the party, for those who feel she ought to be.”

Even so, Devine argued that Sanders’s campaign was bringing much more to the party than it was taking away. He pointed to a surge in new voter registrations in California and other states, as well as the broader passion of the Vermonter’s supporters.

Devine added, “We want to have a huge impact on the rules of the party, and that is motivated by a sincere desire to get more people involved in the process. That is the fight that lies ahead.” 

“Listen,” Devine continued, “it doesn’t have to be a terribly acrimonious fight, either.”