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N.H. Dem Chair: Republicans, Media Are Exaggerating Superdelegate Issue

Brady Carlson

The Democratic Party is facing pushback over its rules around super-delegates, as voters question whether the system will end up hindering Bernie Sanders’s chance at the nomination despite the results of the popular vote in New Hampshire's primary.

On Thursday morning, state party chairman Ray Buckley told NHPR's The Exchange he believes the delegate system was clearly and transparently explained to Democrats before last week’s primary — and he suggested the controversy over allocation of delegates has been overblown by both Republicans and the media. (Scroll down to hear Buckley's full remarks)

The New Hampshire Republican Party, for its part, recently launched an online petition prodding the Democratic party to make sure New Hampshire Democratic Party superdelegates support Bernie Sanders after his victory here.

"This is something that was stirred up by the Republicans and some members of the media," Buckley said. "This is something that New Hampshire Democratic activists, we reached out… On Saturday, Jan. 30, we had 1,000 New Hampshire Democrats got together to create the delegate slate. All of which, this process was explained to."

Buckley noted that the superdelegate system has been in place for decades, and that Sanders himself “hasn’t said anything about this process, because he certainly understands that this is the process.”

“And Tad Devine, his senior adviser, is the architect of this plan,” Buckley added. “And Tad was the delegate person for [Walter] Mondale, for [Michael] Dukakis, for Bob Kerry and for other candidates over the years.”

Devine, in a 2008 op-ed for the New York Times amid another round of controversy over this system, warned against allowing super-delegates to undermine the voices of Democratic primary and caucus voters.

“If the super-delegates determine the party’s nominee before primary and caucus voters have rendered a clear verdict, Democrats risk losing the trust that we are building with voters today,” Devine wrote at the time.

“The perception that the votes of ordinary people don’t count as much as those of the political insiders, who get to pick the nominee in some mythical back room, could hurt our party for decades to come.”

Here’s the way the super-delegate system works in New Hampshire, as explained by NPR:

The state has 32 delegates, 24 of which are divided between candidates proportionally based on the results of the primary; the remaining eight “super-delagates” can, technically, choose to support a candidate regardless of the primary outcome. Buckley said 15 of the non- super-delegates have been allocated to Sanders based on the results of the primary, and nine have been allocated to Hillary Clinton.

Six of the state’s eight super-delegates — a group that includes Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Gov. Maggie Hassan and Rep. Annie Kuster — have already endorsed Clinton. The two uncommitted super-delegates are state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark and Buckley, the party chair.  

The New Hampshire Democratic Party has a 53-page document outlining the delegate rules, which were approved for the 2016 election in April 2015, on its website. 

Despite the furor around the nominating system — a petition on has amassed some 160,000 signatures urging Democratic super-delegates “to pledge to back the will of the voters” — Buckley says New Hampshire’s delegation already plans to do just that.

“If Bernie Sanders is the likely nominee, we will all support Bernie Sanders. If Hillary Clinton is the likely nominee, we will all go with Hillary Clinton,” Buckley said. “Every single convention, we have uniformly gone with the nominee – and that’s exactly what is going to happen again.”

“If there was a real need for concern,” Buckley added, “you don’t think that Bernie Sanders would be talking about this?”  

The full conversation on The Exchange about delegates and the presidential nominating process, including comments from New Hampshire Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Horn, can be found here.

Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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