Battle over Democratic superdelegates dominates state party meeting

  • Democratic activists who want to scrap the party’s superdelegate system raise their hands Saturday, at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s winter meeting, held in Manchester. Photo by Paul Steinhauser.

For the Monitor
Saturday, December 02, 2017

At the urging of state party activists, the New Hampshire Democratic Party will hold a special meeting next month that will spotlight the controversial issue of superdelegates.

The fight over superdelegates raged during last year’s Democratic presidential nomination battle between eventual nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Superdelegates overwhelmingly backed Clinton in last year’s nomination race.

In New Hampshire, six of the state’s eight superdelegates backed Clinton even before Sanders convincingly defeated her by 22 percentage points in the state’s Feb. 2016 primary. All six stuck with Clinton after the primary.

A majority of activists attending Saturday’s winter state committee meeting, held in Manchester, voted to hold a special meeting early next month, after the release of a report by the Democratic National Committee’s Unity Commission on super delegates and other hot button issues that are dividing the party.

Kathy Sullivan, one of New Hampshire’s two committee members on the Democratic National Committee, was repeatedly questioned about superdelegates.

“You’re going to see changes,” said Sullivan, who sits on the national party’s influential Rules Committee.

Superdelegates are Democratic governors and members of Congress, along with state party chairs and vice chairs and other top national party officials. They are given special status to vote for the candidate of their choice in the party’s presidential nomination process, regardless of which candidate their state backed in the primary and caucus calendar.

The superdelegate system was implemented in the 1980s, when the DNC boosted the influence of party insiders to try and avoid the crushing presidential election losses by the Democrats in the 1972 and 1980 elections.

Clinton’s strong support among super delegates didn’t tip the nomination to her. She also won more pledged delegates than Sanders. But his supporters argued that the early support by super delegates for Clinton gave the perception, even before the start of the primary calendar, that she would win the nomination.

Sullivan said she’s hearing that the Unity Commission may recommend a bifurcated superdelegate system, with elected officials free to vote for the presidential candidate of their choice. But party officials, who make up the bulk of the superdelegates, would be bound by the results of their state’s primary or caucus.

Sullivan, a former state party chair, said “a lot of us old school members are saying it is time for a change.”

Before the start of the meeting, a letter signed by more than 50 activists urged Sullivan and Bill Shaheen, the state’s other DNC committee member, “to encourage the Unity Commission to recommend the elimination of the superdelegate system outright.”

The 21-member Unity Commission, which is made up of both Clinton and Sanders supporters, is expected to issue its report on Dec. 8.