Democrat superdelegates gird for clash at convention
Fiery supporters of Clinton, Sanders ready to face off
The Democratic superdelegates are bracing for turmoil at the national convention this summer in Philadelphia, and they already are finger-pointing about which side is tearing apart the party.
Those backing likely presidential nominee Hillary Clinton accuse rival Sen. Bernard Sanders and his band of rabble-rousers of not playing by the rules and deliberately sabotaging the party. The other side accuses party establishment “elitists” of manipulating the process and railroading the senator from Vermont and the 10 million Americans who have voted for him. A cataclysmic clash is inevitable. “They are going to make it ugly,” proClinton superdelegate Mannie Rodriguez, a Democratic National Committee member from Colorado, said of the Sanders movement. “These people don’t want to go by the rules. They want to change the rules.”
Like other superdelegates on both sides of the divide, Mr. Rodriguez said he hopes the dispute will not spark violence in Philadelphia. But he said he is apprehensive after being mobbed by Sanders supporters at the state convention in Denver and harassed on email and Twitter because he backed Mrs. Clinton in a state where the senator handily won the Democratic caucuses.
“I never felt this way about being a superdelegate before,” he said. “This is my 12th year, and this is as worse as it’s gotten. Sanders doesn’t believe in the superdelegates, but he still wants them to vote for him.”
The superdelegates — 712 elected officials and party leaders who are free to back any candidate they want at the convention but overwhelmingly support Mrs. Clinton — have been the focus of Mr. Sanders’ charge that the process is rigged.
Sanders supporters plan to keep the superdelegates under pressure to switch their votes and help deliver the nomination to the self-described democratic socialist who is leading a revolution within the party.
“It could get messy, and I think that’s OK for everyone not to be puppets and line up,” said Troy Jackson, a DNC member from Maine who is one of just 42 superdelegates nationwide pledging support for Mr. Sanders.
The senator is mathematically all but eliminated from securing the 2,382 delegates needed to win the nomination, but he vows to take his campaign all the way to the convention.
Mr. Sanders has downplayed remarks he made about the convention getting “messy,” which evoked images of the melee at the Nevada state party convention.
“What I said was democracy is messy,” Mr. Sanders said on MSNBC. “People have debates. We don’t live, thank God, in an authoritarian country. People dissent. They may raise their voice every now and then. That’s called American democracy.”
He is accusing party leaders of rigging the race and urging his supporters to voice their dissent.
Pro-Clinton superdelegate Jocelyn Bucaro, a Democratic Party chairwoman in Butler County, Ohio, said the burden is on Mr. Sanders to mollify his supporters.
“Much will depend on how Sen. Sanders handles a concession when that happens,” she said. “But I don’t anticipate the problems we’ve seen in other places in Philadelphia.
“Some of the rhetoric coming from the senator’s supporters and surrogates is not helping the party because they are questioning the legitimacy of the process,” said Ms. Bucaro. “There is a problem with the rhetoric right now.”
She noted that Mrs. Clinton would be winning without superdelegates, and she explained that the former secretary of state’s advantage with superdelegates as “indicative of the Clintons’ long ties to Democrats.”
Still, the lopsided support for Mrs. Clinton among superdelegates when Mr. Sanders has won about 45 percent of the votes cast in primaries and caucuses has some party leaders conceding that the rules need an overhaul after this election cycle.
“This unease says that the party should revisit the delegate selection rules,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Jackson, the DNC member from Maine, said the convention would get “messy” because the entire campaign has been that way.
“It’s been messy for a long time. It’s been messy with a bunch of elitist well-off people running the party and not really caring bout the everyday populists,” he said. “If we don’t roll over and give them what they want, they are going to be upset and wonder why Sanders doesn’t just pull out.”
Mr. Troy vowed to keep prodding fellow superdelegates at the convention to join the Sanders camp.
Wisconsin state Rep. David Bowen, a superdelegate backing Mr. Sanders, said he wants a civil debate at the convention but stressed that “people must also feel that there is fairness.”
“There are for now almost 10 million voters who have voted for Sanders, and it seems like the Clinton camp has continued to not take seriously and pushed aside those supporters,” he said. “There definitely has to be reforms.”
Mr. Bowen, who also serves as vice chairman of the state party, is the only superdelegate in Wisconsin supporting Mr. Sanders, although the senator won the April 5 primary 56 percent to 43 percent.
“I stuck my neck out, and I endorsed the senator,” he said, adding that there was too much pressure at “the front end” of the race for superdelegates to get onboard with Mrs. Clinton.
“It will be a tough process to get people to humble themselves so that we can unify and not have people say, ‘You lost, so you need to shut up.’”