Sanders’ superdelegate strategy runs into resistance in Georgia

Staff writer Tamar Hallerman contributed to this article.


What you need to know about Georgia’s Republican, Democratic delegates

Republicans

Georgia has 76 delegates to the Republican National Convention, out of a total of 2,472. Forty-two were tapped at congressional district GOP conventions in April; 31 will be elected in June at the state Republican convention in Augusta. Georgia also has three Republican National Committee members, and they will be delegates.

The delegates tend to be insiders: people who have spent years within the party apparatus, running for office, raising money, knocking on doors for candidates. They are picked by a much smaller and more committed group than voted in the statewide primary. Statewide delegates are elected by state convention delegates, who themselves were elected at GOP county conventions.

When the delegates arrive in Cleveland in July for the convention, they will be legally bound to support a certain candidate on the first ballot, based on Georgia’s vote in the March 1 primary. Given the candidates’ performances statewide and within 14 congressional districts, businessman Donald Trump will get 42 first-ballot delegates from Georgia, Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz will get 18 and Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio will get 14. Even though Rubio has dropped out of the race, he has petitioned to keep his bound delegates — who can be used as bargaining chips.

Where it gets interesting is if Trump does not earn the 1,237 delegates necessary for nomination on the first ballot. Then each delegate can vote as he or she sees fit.

The better-organized Cruz campaign has worked to undermine Trump’s support on subsequent ballots by inserting loyalists within the state delegations, but an outcome beyond the first ballot is exceedingly hard to predict.

Democrats

Georgia has 117 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, out of a total of 4,765. The 102 pledged delegates include 67 elected at April caucuses in each congressional district; 13 state and local leaders and officeholders; and 22 at-large delegates elected by the state party committee.

All sign pledges to support a certain candidate in Philadelphia in July. The presidential campaigns can review and approve the delegates assigned to them, reducing the chances of double agents as seen on the GOP side.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s dominant win on March 1 gave her 73 pledged delegates from Georgia, to 29 for Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The remaining 15 are “superdelegates,” national party leaders, federal officeholders and other insiders who can vote as they like — and have mostly lined up behind Clinton in public.

In the two-person race, a multiple-ballot convention is exceedingly unlikely, meaning that the fight to sway delegates focuses on the superdelegates. The Sanders campaign is trailing and has been making its case to sway Clinton loyalists and others who have not publicly picked a candidate.

— Daniel Malloy

Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ increasingly narrow path to the Democratic presidential nomination rests almost entirely on persuading a group of party elites who hold a vote at the summer’s convention to flip their support from Hillary Clinton.

That tactic has gotten little traction in Georgia, home to a chunk of superdelegates who have already committed to Clinton — and a handful of big-name Democrats who have yet to make up their minds.

The biggest is former President Jimmy Carter, who said through a spokesman that he has not yet announced which candidate he will support at the party’s July convention in Philadelphia. Three other superdelegates from Georgia are either uncommitted or declined to comment on their choice.

The support of superdelegates — party insiders who can vote on whichever presidential candidate they want no matter how their state voted — helped Clinton stake a huge lead over Sanders even before the voting began.

She’s secured support from more than 460 of the 719 superdelegates — including 11 of Georgia’s 15 — compared with roughly three dozen that have vowed to support Sanders. And her campaign is working to prevent a repeat of 2008, when droves of superdelegates bolted Clinton for Barack Obama’s camp when he gained steam at the polls.

This time around, Clinton has a commanding lead in the battle for pledged delegates — those required to vote based on the state's vote — and her decisive victory in New York and strength in five East Coast states casting ballots Tuesday has supporters confident she can clinch the nomination by June.

The gap has sparked a backlash among Sanders supporters who have posted phone numbers and addresses of some of the insiders to urge them to switch sides. Others have argued that the Democratic nominating system, which has relied on superdelegates for decades, is undemocratic. In some states he won, Sanders' allies are pushing rule changes requiring the states' superdelegates to vote based on the results of the primary.

In the run-up to Tuesday’s vote, the senator’s strategists signaled that he intends to fight through the summer convention even if Clinton wins the popular vote, projecting she’ll fall short of the 2,383 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager, said that includes targeting superdelegates who back Clinton or are undecided.

"The Democrats are going to have to decide who they're going to want to elect in terms of who is going to be the best in November," Weaver said on MSNBC. "Clearly, the polls are almost unanimous now: Bernie Sanders is a much more electable candidate in November."

The strategy has put holdouts in Georgia and elsewhere in the cross hairs.

A spokeswoman for Carter, who backed Barack Obama over Clinton in 2008, said he hasn’t announced who he would support yet. U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, who represents a southwest Georgia district, also said he would wait “until the process is over” before declaring a preference.

“I’m not getting pressure from anyone,” he said, adding that he’ll keep in mind Clinton’s overwhelming victory in Georgia in the March 1 primary when making up his mind.

Georgia’s Clinton superdelegates are growing more steadfast in their support, with several saying there’s no way they’ll spurn her. Democratic Party of Georgia Chairman DuBose Porter, one of them, joined the party chiefs of four other states to slam Sanders for downplaying Clinton’s wins in the South as inevitable victories in the “most conservative” part of the nation.

“To dismiss the importance of this region is to minimize the importance of the voices of a core constituency for our party,” he wrote in the letter.

David Worley, another Democratic National Committee member from Georgia who backed Clinton, said he’d dismiss any entreaties from Sanders’ camp in a heartbeat.

“I believe in keeping my word. I gave my word to Secretary Clinton that I would vote for her, and that is exactly what I will do at the convention,” he said. “I believed that she was the best person we could nominate to be president and have seen nothing to change that view.”

Yet Sanders may not be completely shut out in Georgia.

AFL-CIO President Emeritus Richard Ray, another superdelegate, said he hasn’t been contacted yet by the Clinton camp but that he met with Sanders at an event last year in Atlanta. When pressed on where he’s leaning, he said he’s biding his time as he watches the race unfold.

“I know what Georgia did, but I’d kind of like to see what other people are doing in other primaries before I make my commitment,” Ray said. “Bernie is winning some, Hillary is winning some. I’d kind of like to see what the majority of people are saying in their primaries before I make a decision.”