The News Journal | by Adam Duvernay
Nearly a third of Delaware’s Democratic delegates are superdelegates, who typically are high-visibility figures in the party. Tuesday’s primary will select delegates, and a candidate needs 2,026 pledged delegates to own a majority of convention votes.
Ten Delawarean votes will have an outsize impact on what Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders take away from the First State.
Nearly a third of Delaware’s Democratic delegates are superdelegates, the now-notorious party convention voters unbeholden to the choices of their state’s electorate. The state doesn’t have its say until Tuesday, but half of them already know they’re voting for Clinton.
Delaware has 31 delegates that will be awarded proportionally to Democratic candidates. Twenty-one of those will be assigned to represent one of the two remaining candidates while the superdelegates can wait to decide until the convention.
Those superdelegates — Vice President Joe Biden, Gov. Jack Markell, U.S. Rep. John Carney, U.S. Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper, Democratic National Committee members John Daniello, Karen Valentine, Lisa Goodman, Robert Gilligan and Valerie Longhurst — were awarded their position for being long-time active party members.
Republicans do not use superdelegates as part of their candidate selection process.
Polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday for Delaware’s primary.
Pledged Democratic delegates aren’t selected until a May 7 party event in Dover. A recent poll suggested Clinton is Delaware’s preferred candidate, weighing in at 45 percent of voters’ support to Sanders’ 38 percent with 17 percent undecided.
A candidate needs 2,026 pledged delegates to own a majority of convention votes. A win in New York on Tuesday put Clinton at 1,444 pledged delegates while Sanders is up to 1,207 with a long struggle ahead if he wants to catch up to the former first lady during the later contests.
It’s the tightness of the race — and the ability to ignore the popular vote — that’s made superdelegates such a divisive issue this election cycle, and gives Delaware a larger-than-normal voice in the candidate selection process.
Markell, Carney, Coons, Carper and Gilligan all have said their votes are going to Clinton. How the other five will vote depends entirely on them.
“Nobody can tell me what to do. It’s my choice,” said Valentine, who’s waiting until after the primary to decide who she’ll support in her fourth term as a Delaware superdelegate. “My mind can change. It’s a decision you have to make based on the facts at the time.”
In 2008 Valentine was pledged to support Clinton against then-Sen. Barack Obama. When she got to the convention in Denver, Colorado, she said it was clear the national party had come to a different conclusion — so she voted for Obama.
The power a portion of total convention voters has to make late changes of support or to wait until the last minute to make a choice provides a level of flexibility that’s valuable to the nomination process, Valentine said. She worries early pledges from superdelegates actually can affect the results of statewide voting.
Even as she prepares to head to Philadelphia to vote in her first convention as a superdelegate, Longhurst said she believes the state’s popular vote should be binding. She knows who’s going to get her vote as a Delaware resident, but she thinks it’s her duty to cast her superdelegate vote for the candidate who takes the most votes back home.
“To me, it should be winner takes all,” said Longhurst, also a state representative. “But I’m a part of that process now. I was given a task to do something our party agreed upon.”
The New Hampshire primary in early February proved a landslide victory for Sanders, who took home 60 percent of the statewide vote to Clinton’s 38 percent. The candidates walked away from the contest with an equal number of delegates.
New Hampshire had 24 delegates to dole out. Sanders grabbed 15 and Clinton took nine, but six of the state’s eight superdelegates were pledged to Clinton — so both had 17 when all was said and done.
There are 18 delegates in the Wyoming convention contingent, four of which are superdelegates who were already pledged to Clinton prior to the April 9 vote. Sanders won 55.7 percent of the vote there, but split the remaining 14 delegates with Clinton down the middle because the state awards them proportionately.
Results like that are why Delaware State Sen. John Kowalko, a Newark Democrat, finds his party’s operating system offensive.
No one in a democratic election, Kowalko said, should have the power to usurp the will of the voters. Superdelegates who pledge their support to candidates before their home state contest is through or who vote against the popular vote, he said, make the system less democratic.
“You’re actually defeating the purpose of having the electorate’s vote counted in a meaningful way,” Kowalko said.
Kowalko is supporting Sanders, viewed as an outsider candidate looking to challenge his party to move farther left. Kowalko argues because superdelegates are members of the party elite they are inclined to support candidates who benefit from the status quo.
“I’m a Democrat through and through. I’m an idealist. But I think we squander opportunities to enfranchise a substantial change,” Kowalko said.
But according to Delaware State University professor of political science Samuel Hoff, there’s a limiting factor for superdelegates who want to vote against their state’s majority — the politics of staying in office.
“Politically, it’s not a good move,” Hoff said.
Most superdelegates also hold elected positions in their home states, and Hoff said some constituents view casting a vote opposite the majority as betrayal. Mistrust of superdelegates, Hoff said, is akin to the way some people see the Electoral College as a barrier between actual votes and an election’s outcome.
But even committed superdelegates can change their minds like Valentine did in 2008, and that fact has added another layer to the haziness of the process. The Sanders camp has been clear it will in the run up to the convention continue courting Clinton’s superdelegates to do just that.
Valentine said she hasn’t heard a single word from the Sanders campaign yet, though Clinton’s staff stays in touch with periodic emails and phone calls. She said she’s told them she’ll remain undeclared.
“No one’s wooing me. I don’t feel any pressure from any campaign,” Valentine said.
Vice President Joe Biden
U.S. Rep. John Carney
U.S. Sen. Tom Carper
U.S. Sen. Chris Coons
Democratic National Committee member John Daniello (chairman of state party)
Democratic National Committee member Robert Gilligan (retired state representative)
Democratic National Committee member Lisa Goodman (vice chair of state party)
Democratic National Committee member Valerie Longhurst (state representative and majority leader)
Gov. Jack Markell
Democratic National Committee member Karen Valentine