Who Are the Superdelegates?

by CB Buchholz

Our Deaf Voter Education page drew a lot of attention from our readers and also many questions on the differences between pledged delegates and superdelegates. The two most common questions were these — who were the superdelegates, and how did the Democratic National Committee come up with a huge group of superdelegates? Time for a civics lesson here!!

There are 852 super delegates, roughly 40 percent of the amount of delegates needed to win the nomination. The superdelegates are defined as unpledged delegates who legally reside in their respective states and are recognized as part of their state’s delegation. They include:

* members of the Democratic National Committee (DNC)

* if applicable, the Democratic President and the Democratic Vice President of the United States

* all Democratic members of the United States House of Representatives and all Democratic members of the United States Senate

* all the Democratic governors, if applicable.

* all former Democratic Presidents (Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter), all former Democratic Vice Presidents (Walter Mondale and Al Gore), all former Democratic leaders of the U.S. Senate, all former Democratic Speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives and Democratic Minority Leaders (Dick Gephardt), as applicable, and all former Chairs of the Democratic National Committee.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is composed of the chairs and vice-chairs of each state Democratic Party Committee, plus two hundred members apportioned among the states based on population, plus a number of elected officials serving in an ex-officio capacity, and a variety of representatives of major Democratic Party constituencies, some of who are appointed by party chairman Howard Dean.

In the last half of the 20th century, the Democratic Party suffered several presidential election losses. The primary voters chose George McGovern as the Democratic nominee who lost in a Richard Nixon landslide of 1972, before the Watergate scandal erupted. Then in 1976, Jimmy Carter ran as a dark horse Democratic nominee who scored an upset victory over President Gerald Ford.

In 1980, Jimmy Carter survived a challenge by Senator Edward Kennedy for the Democratic nomination, only to be landslided by Ronald Reagan in the November election. Four years later, Reagan landslided yet another Democratic nominee, Walter Mondale. Then we saw Michael Dukakis get clobbered by George “Poppa” Bush in 1988.

By then, the Democratic Party leaders wanted a new system where they could influence the nominating process and block the nomination from a candidate they thought was “unwinnable.” They figured that if they had such mechanism in place during the 1970s, they could have blocked Jimmy Carter’s nomination which in turn would have prevented a series of election losses occuring since then. Thus, the system of pledged delegates and superdelegates was created.

Many people have made claims that with the delegate/superdelegate system, the Democratic Party ran the risk of alienating millions of Americans who participated in the primary/caucus process. As one website explained this — Many see the (superdelegate) system as undemocratic… It was set up as a safety net for party leaders to correct a ‘mistake’ by the voters. When this system was being devised in the late 1980s, Al Gore, then a senator from Tennessee was quoted as saying, “It’s a risk, but when you lose 49 states, it’s time to take some risks.”

Only time will tell if this delegate/superdelegate system really works to the benefit of the Democratic Party, in terms of picking candidates with the “right stuff” and winning presidential elections.

Thank you- DEAF DEMOCRATS Editors


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