When it comes to picking a presidential nominee, the Democrats are quite undemocratic.
And that’s what it may take to save Hillary Clinton, in Colorado and across the land.
All delegate votes are equal, but some are more equal than others. Those are the ones that belong to so-called superdelegates. They consist of elected federal officials, governors, some Democratic National Committee members and party elders.
The votes of ordinary delegates are apportioned according to the popular primary or caucus vote in each state. But about 15 percent or more of the delegates assigned to each state are free to vote for whomever they like.
Colorado is entitled to send 79 delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in late July. Of these, 13 are superdelegates, of whom nine say they are committed to Clinton, zero to Sanders and four uncommitted.
The Clinton folks include U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter, Gov. John Hickenlooper, former Gov. Roy Romer, and three DNC members who don’t hold elected office.
The four uncommitted include state party chairman Rick Palacio and three other DNC members.
Ordinary Democrats can do their civic duty by going to caucuses March 1 and from there to county and congressional district assemblies and, finally, the state convention April 16.
The millennials can enthusiastically vote for Bernie (“Ask not what you can do for your country; tell Wall Street billionaires what they can do for you”) Sanders but unless he wins a huge majority of the ordinary delegates, Clinton is still going to Philly with more delegates.
It’s already been noted that although Sanders beat Clinton by 60 to 38 percent in New Hampshire, she ended up with an equal number of delegates, thanks to the superdelegate system. The Establishment prefers her.
Nationwide, Clinton’s superdelegate lead is even more startling. Of the 4,763 delegates going to the national convention, 712 are of the “super” variety. At last count she had 429, Sanders had just 14 and 269 were uncommitted.
It is true that the superdelegates can always change their minds, and if Sanders sweeps to large victories during primary season, many may. In 2008 Clinton also had the early superdelegate majority over Barack Obama, but many switched loyalties along the way. Nobody wants to stick with a loser.
This year, if Sanders narrowly wins the normal delegate vote, the supers aren’t likely to switch — unless Donald Trump looks certain to clinch the Republican nomination. That’s a race they’ll figure Sanders can win, since Trump has such high negatives both inside and outside his own party.
The superdelegate process has been evolving since the 1970s, apparently to offset the enthusiasms of the rabble, who produced candidates like George McGovern (1972) and Walter Mondale (1984), both big losers to Republicans.
Former Gov. Dick Lamm, who was a superdelegate when in office, said the system is rather like giving each state two senators, regardless of population, to balance straight proportional representation. Superdelegates, he said, are like “the trim tab on a ship, helping keep its balance to some degree.”
And it has saved Colorado Democrats from some embarrassment. In 1992, in our first presidential preference primary, former California Gov. Jerry Brown won 29 percent of the popular vote, Bill Clinton 27 percent and former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas 23 percent.
But at the convenion that summer Clinton won 26 delegate votes from Colorado, Brown only 19 and Tsongas 13. That’s because most superdelegates stayed uncommitted to see which way the wind was blowing.
In a birthday interview last fall, Lamm told the Denver Post that nominating Sanders would be a “tragic mistake.” but he’d vote for him against “almost any Republican out there.”
How did ex-Gov. Roy Romer, now 87, get to be a superdelegate and not Lamm, a comparative child of 80? Apparently because Romer was once general chairman of the DNC. Not that Lamm is envious. It was fun in his day, “but I’m a spectator now, not a player.”
The Republican Party is slightly more democratic than the Democrats, although it too has adopted a modified superdelegate system in recent election cycles.
The 50 states — and all six territories in our far-flung empire — get three superdelegates: The party chairman plus two national committee people. That means a total of 168 out of 2,472 delegates that will be in Cleveland in mid-July.
That’s just under 7 percent. And most are not really super since under party rules they are obliged to vote in proportion to their states’ GOP primary vote.
Since Colorado no longer has a presidential primary, or even a straw poll (which would be binding under national party rules), our three party leaders will go uncommitted. They are state chairman Steve House and national committee members Lily Nunez and George Leing.
Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes once a week for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at email@example.com You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and www.CompleteColorado.com.