- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 21, 2016

After railing against the influence of superdelegates, Sen. Bernard Sanders has changed tactics and is now counting on those very members of the Democratic establishment to deliver him a victory at this summer’s presidential nominating convention.

Mr. Sanders was forced to change strategy after a crushing loss in New York this week and with the prospect of a string of losses in next week’s slate of Northeastern primaries, likely dooming his chances of winning the nomination outright.

But his new embrace of the superdelegates — party leaders who are free to support either candidate and aren’t necessarily bound by the will of the voters in their state — has even his closest allies questioning what he’s doing, saying it goes against the entire outsider campaign he’s run so far.

Powerful progressive groups such as MoveOn.org and Democracy for America, both of which support Mr. Sanders, have in recent days have expressed reservations about the senator’s strategy, saying it’s vital the party rely on the will of the voters to pick the Democratic nominee.

Beyond the simple fact that his strategy potentially would overturn the will of voters, there’s another irony to Mr. Sanders‘ superdelegate push, political analysts say, namely that he’s spent the entirety of his campaign railing against the “establishment” but now is publicly courting it.

“The party’s appetite for a courteous debate between Clinton and Sanders is over after the New York primary. His campaign has moved from irritating party elites to angering them,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston who specializes in presidential leadership. “Sanders‘ courting of superdelegates is as hypocritical as it is damaging to the party. With his realistic path to the nomination virtually impossible, this disruption creates divisions in the party that needs to unify to win in November.”

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While it’s true that superdelegates have lined up behind Mrs. Clinton, that certainly is not the sole reason for her large lead over Mr. Sanders. She’s also won more states, has garnered a larger share of the popular vote nationwide and has secured more pledged delegates than her opponent.

After Tuesday’s thrashing of Mr. Sanders in New York, Mrs. Clinton now leads in the overall delegate count 1,930 to 1,189, according to an Associated Press tally. Among pledged delegates, she leads 1,428 to 1,151. Among superdelegates, she’s ahead 502 to 38.

Mrs. Clinton is likely to expand that lead next week. Polls show her with big leads in Pennsylvania and Maryland, the two largest delegate prizes in the April 26 primary slate. Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware Democrats also will vote that day.

Both candidates made big pushes in those states on Thursday. Mrs. Clinton participated in a Hartford, Connecticut, town hall meeting on gun violence, in which she again criticized Mr. Sanders for opposing legislation that would’ve allowed gunmakers to he held legally liable for shootings.

Former President Bill Clinton was on the trail in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, while the couple’s daughter, Chelsea, held three campaign events in Maryland.

Mr. Sanders held three events in Pennsylvania on Thursday, hoping to regain the momentum he lost after being beaten badly in New York.

But polls show an uphill climb. In Pennsylvania, for example, the most recent Real Clear Politics average of all polls gives Mrs. Clinton a 15-point edge on Mr. Sanders. She holds a similar lead in Maryland, surveys show.

Faced with the reality that they won’t catch Mrs. Clinton among pledged delegates, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said this week they’ll actively try to flip superdelegates ahead of the party convention in July.

Other campaign officials reiterated that they’ll fight all the way to the convention, even if Mrs. Clinton has an insurmountable lead among pledged delegates.

“We intend to go to the convention and make the superdelegates vote,” Sanders aide Mark Longabaugh told the Huffington Post earlier this week.

The plan represents quite a reversal for Mr. Sanders, who until recently lumped superdelegates into the broad “establishment” category he constantly blasts on the campaign trail.

“The whole concept of superdelegates is problematic,” he told CBS’ “Face the Nation” program last month.

Some of Mr. Sanders‘ top supporters are pushing back against his new strategy.

Ben Wikler, Washington director of MoveOn.org, said the group still wants to see the senator capture the nomination but “superdelegates shouldn’t overrule the will of the Democratic grass roots.”

The liberal PAC Democracy for America, which has endorsed Mr. Sanders, expressed similar sentiments.

Regardless of whether the superdelegate push is appropriate, Clinton supporters aren’t concerned.

“If the delegate totals were close, I could see this being a viable strategy. But it’s not even close,” said Clinton supporter Jim Manley, director of the communications practice at QGA Public Affairs and former spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. “If he goes down this path, he will lose, and lose badly. I have no problem with him staying in the race all the way until California [on June 7]. He’s got money and a loyal group of supporters, but he needs to play his end game smart or the only one he will help will be Donald Trump.”

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