(EDITOR’S NOTE, 8/8/19, 3:53 PM ET: The word “plurality” in the fifth paragraph of this article has been changed from “plurality” to “majority” to more accurately reflect the DNC’s rules. This article has also been amended to include how many delegates must be won to clinch the nomination.)

South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg appears to be betting on a contested convention next summer, and is already reaching out to superdelegates months before the first primary ballots are cast.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that the Buttigieg campaign is “ramping up” outreach to Democratic superdelegates in phone calls in an attempt to win them over to his campaign, even though the first primaries and caucuses don’t take place until February 2020. Pete for America campaign manager Mike Schmuhl boasted of his campaign’s diverse hires, saying a majority of the 240 people employed by the campaign are women, that 37% are people of color, and that 28% are LGBTQ.

Buttigieg has been slowly trending downward in the polls, according to the RealClearPolitics presidential polling aggregator. Despite polling at an average of 7.8% before the first round of Democratic debates, and despite raising nearly $25 million in the second quarter of 2019, Buttigieg has failed to poll at more than 6% in polls since late June. This may be why Buttigieg is hoping to enlist the support of superdelegates before the early primaries.

In 2015, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton relied heavily on superdelegate support months before the first primaries to widen her delegate lead over her rival, Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont). By August of 2015, Clinton had 440 superdelegates backing her, amounting to more than half of the 712 total superdelegates in Clinton’s corner roughly six months before voters in Iowa and New Hampshire had a chance to cast a ballot. Bloomberg reported at the time that Clinton’s lead was “insurmountable” before the primaries had even officially begun.

After a push from progressive activists within the party, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) changed the convention rules to where superdelegates’ votes wouldn’t be counted on the first ballot at the party’s official convention in July of 2020. Should any candidate fail to capture a majority of pledged delegates (delegates won during the primaries and caucuses) on the first ballot, superdelegates would then cast their ballots to select the party’s presidential nominee. To clinch the nomination, a candidate needs to win 1,990 delegates, according to

Superdelegates, which are typically made up of high-profile Democratic elected officials like U.S. Senators, members of Congress, and governors along with state-level Democratic party bosses, make up roughly a third of the delegates needed to clinch the nomination, and are, by design, meant to put the finger on the scale in favor of candidates more favorable to the Democratic establishment, according to former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

As the New York Times reported earlier this year in an article entitled ” ‘Stop Sanders’ Democrats Are Agonizing Over His Momentum,” superdelegates against the idea of Sen. Sanders being the Democratic nominee discussed considering using their second ballot vote to deny him the nomination. According to the article, Pete Buttigieg was in attendance during at least one of several secretive backroom meetings, along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), and several wealthy Democratic donors.

The specter of superdelegates deciding the nomination, particularly if Mr. Sanders is a finalist, is highly unappetizing to party officials.

“If we have a role, so be it, but I’d much prefer that it be decided in the first round, just from a unity standpoint,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

…The gatherings have included scores from the moderate or center-left wing of the party, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California; Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader; former Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., himself a presidential candidate; and the president of the Center for American Progress, Neera Tanden.

In 2017, Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) — who was Clinton’s running mate during her unsuccessful 2016 bid for the White House as well as a former DNC chair — called for superdelegates to be eliminated from the presidential nominating process.

“I have long believed there should be no superdelegates. These positions are given undue influence in the popular nominating contest and make the process less democratic,” Kaine wrote in a letter to DNC chair Tom Perez.

(Featured image: marcn/Wikimedia Commons)


Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.


  1. Thank you for writing this article. It is an insidious act to be courting the votes of those who can tip the scales when one’s policies and background cannot otherwise win an actual voting contest.

    However, your article is wrong on important point: You state that the candidate must receive a plurality of votes on the first ballot. This is incorrect. The candidate on the first ballot must receive a MAJORITY (not a plurality) of the pledged delegate votes. If he/she does not, then the superdelegates can get in on the action.

    And, the DNC just changed the rules again yesterday (8/8/2019) and increased the number of delegates to states who choose to hold their primaries later int he year (April and May). The delegates there are increased by 10% and 15% and it is cumulative (i.e. a state with a May primary gets 10% + 15% more delegates)! This makes the so-called “magic number” (the 50% threshold needed for a majority of first-ballot pledged delegate votes) to 1,990 instead of 1,885.
    see these links for a short but decent explanation:

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