Politics

Sanders' Long-Shot Delegate Hunt

Clinton superdelegates say they aren't switching, and Sanders hasn't asked them to

Bernie Sanders is turning to superdelegates. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

In a last-ditch effort to secure the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders needs the very people he's disparaged: superdelegates.  

But it's not clear how actively he's courting them to support his campaign.  

The senator from Vermont contends that neither he nor Hillary Clinton will have enough pledged delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination going into the July convention.  

So, he says, superdelegates — party leaders who are not bound to a candidate — will determine the nominee.  

Sanders has criticized superdelegate process as undemocratic, since they aren't elected. But he's also said that superdelegates from the 20 states he has won should honor the will of the voters and support him.  

Beyond wishing, and sometimes demanding, it's not clear what Sanders is actually doing about that.    

Several Clinton supporters in Congress who, as superdelegates, represent states that Sanders won, said the Sanders campaign has not reached out to them.  

"Wouldn’t make any difference if they did," said Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, which Sanders won in May . "Maybe they know that.”  

And what are Sanders' handful of Capitol Hill allies up to?   

"I have been focused on the fact that once we have a nominee, we’re going to have to come together, both the (Clinton) team and the Bernie Sanders team,"said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said,when asked if he has been reaching out to fellow senators.  

Merkley is Sanders' lone Senate backer and Clinton far exceeds Sanders in congressional endorsements.  

Still, members of Congress could be prime targets in Sanders' search for superdelegates. As legislators, reflecting the will of their constituents is not a foreign concept — at least in theory.  

Sanders could make the "will of the voters" argument with more than 50 superdelegates in Congress who represent states or districts where he got the most votes.  

So far, many of those members of Congress are not wavering in their support for Clinton. Common arguments for sticking with Clinton include her experience and credentials.  

"I made my commitment and I’m not going to change my commitment," said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. "My word is good."  

Rhode Island is among the states that Sanders won. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said he will still support Clinton. He said that superdelegates should be able to use their expertise to make their own choice.  

"It brings, I think in a positive way, the perspective of people who have had long experience and deep personal knowledge of the candidates," Reed said.   

Although how much the Sanders campaign has reached out to superdelegates on Capitol Hill is something of a mystery, some Sanders supporters are taking matters into their own hands.   

About two weeks ago, Sanders delegates in Maine organized a sit-down with Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree at a local law firm, urging her to switch her support from Clinton to Sanders. Sanders won Maine.  

Severin Beliveau, a Sanders delegate, former state lawmaker and longtime Democratic figure in Maine, described the meeting as "civil" and "productive."  

"The obvious argument is [Sanders] did well in Maine,” Beliveau said.  

Pingree pledged to "keep an open mind," going into the Democratic convention, her campaign spokesman said.   

Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, who is running for re-election, faced a rowdy crowd of Sanders supporters at his state's convention in April who chanted, "Change your vote!,"according to video from The Denver Post.     

Bennet's spokesman said Thursday that Bennet continues to support Clinton, but will support whichever candidate has the most pledged delegates going into the national convention.  

In Washington State, a Sanders supporter threatened to cut out Rep. Jim McDermott's tongue, complaining that his own voice was "silenced." That prompted McDermott to keep a shovel on hand for self-defense, according to The Seattle Times .  

Sanders faces a formidable challenge to convince superdelegates to switch sides. He only has 45 backing him, compared to Clinton's 544, according to the Associated Press.   

"I think it's fruitless," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told MSNBC on Friday.  

"You may convert one, two, three, four," said Feinstein, a Clinton supporter. "But you're not going to convert enough to change the entire vote."  

One Sanders supporter said it's still worth trying.  

"If that’s going to be the case, then we might as well anoint kings and queens," said Troy Jackson, a Sanders superdelegate who helped organize the Pingree meeting in Maine.   

“It’s a completely uphill battle," Jackson said. "But I guess you got to play the hand you're dealt.”  

Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

Contact Bowman at  bridgetbowman@rollcall.com  and follow her on Twitter at @bridgetbhc .

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