Bernie Sanders delivered the second-biggest rout in New Hampshire Democratic primary history last night, besting Hillary Clinton by 22 percentage points.
That’s important, because it hands him a crushing victory, lots of momentum and money to help him staff up for a potentially long fight against Clinton. And with that huge win, one might think that Sanders would end up with the majority of delegates.
But Clinton may very well wind up with more of them.
There were 24 delegates to be allocated out of the New Hampshire Democratic primary, based on the vote statewide and by congressional district. Sanders, obviously, won more of those, 13 to her 9 (an additional two were still unallocated as of 11:18 PM, according to the Associated Press).
Add in the “superdelegates” who have already committed to a candidate, and Clinton moves into the delegate lead. Six of the state’s eight “superdelegates” have publicly said they will vote for Clinton at the Democratic National Convention in July. (Two are uncommitted.)
That brings the delegate total out of Tuesday night to 15 to 13 in favor of Clinton.
This is what makes Clinton so powerful in the Democratic race — even while she and Sanders battle it out among rank-and-file voters, she has a massive lead among superdelegates. Altogether, she already has 394 delegates and superdelegates to Sanders’ 42 — a nine-fold lead.
And as NPR reported last year, a Democratic candidate needs 2,382 total delegates (super or not) to win the nomination. 712 of those are superdelegates.
OK, but backing up: who are these superdelegates and why do they get to pick whoever they please, regardless of what the voters want?
Superdelegates are party insiders of all sorts — they include state and national elected officials, as well as Democratic national committee members. So a little known DNC committee member might be a superdelegate, as well as former president Bill Clinton. And while state primary results help apportion the non-super delegates, the superdelegates get to pick who they want.
But why? Electability, writes University of Georgia lecturer Josh Putnam, in a 2009 entry on his blog, Frontloading HQ.
“The reason superdelegates came into being in the interim period between the 1980 and 1984 elections was to allow the party establishment an increased voice in the nomination process,” he wrote.
That gives the party some space to overrule primary and caucus voters. The goal wasn’t to shut voters out, Putnam adds. Rather, the Democratic Party wanted to make sure it nominated someone who the party believed could win in a general election, as the party feared primary voters might choose a candidate that’s too extreme.
And when those superdelegates pick a candidate, those endorsements matter. The endorsements a candidate racks up in the so-called “invisible primary” have in the past been a strong indicator of who will eventually win the nomination, political scientists have found.
As we wrote back in November, it’s all a combination of the Clintons being long-time Democrats who once occupied the white house, while Sanders is not a Democratic senator and has never been a Democrat.
But just as they can pick who they want, superdelegates can also change their minds.
Indeed, a few Sanders supporters appear to be banking on that. As of 3:30 this afternoon, 1,556 Sanders supporters had signed a MoveOn.org petition asking the six New Hampshire superdelegates who have pledged to support Clinton to change their minds.