Hillary Clinton holds what most observers believe is an insurmountable delegate lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary. That’s thanks in large part to her substantial advantage with superdelegates, the Democratic Party elites whose support for candidates is not tied to state vote tallies.
But in May 2008, when Clinton was trailing then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the then-New York senator complained that there were a “couple of problems” with the party’s nomination system.
Asked during a May 18 interview with Kentucky’s WPSD-TV if there was “something wrong” with the superedelegate process, Clinton said that there was.
“I think we need to figure out how we can have a process that reflects the desire of the voters,” Clinton said in the interview, video of which was obtained by the Sidewire app’s Jonathan Allen.
“I think there’s a couple of problems with it,” Clinton added. “You know, if the Democrats had the same process as the Republicans have, I would be the Democratic nominee today because I’ve won more states with more electoral votes.”
Clinton suffered a narrow defeat to Obama during the 2008 primaries in terms of pledged delegates, or those that are apportioned based on raw vote totals. Obama won 51 percent of delegates in that category. But it was his sizable advantage with superdelegates — 66 percent to Clinton’s 34 percent — that secured the nomination for Obama.
In the 2016 contest, Sanders supporters have decried the superdelegate system, saying that their candidate is being crushed by a party machine that is working in Clinton’s favor. While Clinton holds a 55-45 percent advantage over Sanders in terms of pledged delegates, she enjoys a 94-6 lead with superdelegates.
As one Clinton campaign adviser told CNN last month of her superdelegate lead, “that is her only firewall.”
The party’s lopsided system was put on full display during the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary. Sanders walloped Clinton in terms of raw vote tally — 60 percent to 38 percent. But the two candidates walked away with the same number of total delegates. Sanders won 15 pledged delegates versus nine for Clinton. But six of the state’s superdelegates lined up in the Clinton camp.
As Clinton said in 2008: “I do think we’re going to have to look at [the nomination system] because the primaries have been incredibly exciting for people, so I think we need to figure out how we can have a process that reflects the desire of the voters.”
There is one difference between Clinton’s situation in 2008 and Sanders’ in 2016. The former first lady did hold a popular vote advantage over Obama, she noted in her interview. Sanders cannot make the same claim.
But the 74-year-old democratic socialist would have a better chance of pulling off an upset were he not hamstrung by the superdelegate shortfall. Sanders has claimed that he is confident that some Clinton superdelegates will switch to his camp, but that has yet to happen.
As Sidewire’s Allen notes, Clinton did not push for a rule change after her 2008 campaign collapse. Instead, she learned how to navigate the party’s nomination system. She worked early on to secure support from superdelegates. She also hired Jeff Berman, who served as delegate guru on Obama’s 2008 campaign.