There's a strange story coming out of New Hampshire: Hillary Clinton lost the race there on Tuesday night by a historic 22-point-margin, unprecedented in the state among Democrats, and yet she tied Sen. Bernie Sanders there for delegates.
Stranger still, although just two contests have taken place at this point, a quick Google search for the number of delegates allotted to each candidate right now reveals a graphic showing Clinton with a stunning 394 delegates to Sanders's 44, even though he beat her in New Hampshire and drew her to a near-tie in Iowa.
These counts are misleading at best. As are headlines coming out of New Hampshire like "Clinton likely to leave NH with same number of delegates as Sanders".
Sanders won 15 delegates in New Hampshire, while Clinton took nine. And he actually leads Clinton overall in pledged delegates as well, with 36 to her 32. What that Google search and some news outlets are including are superdelegates, the group of elected Democrats and party officials that are cast as shadowy characters every four years because of specious tallies like these.
The regular delegates that the candidates have earned so far must vote at the convention as their states did: 36 will back Sanders, 32 will back Clinton. The superdelegates can vote for whomever they want, regardless of the results of the elections that have taken place so far.
And it's true that of 712 superdelegates that will cast their votes at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, 362 of them have already said that they support Clinton, according to an Associated Press analysis. Sanders has eight.
This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone with even a passing interest in politics. Those superdelegates include every Democratic member of Congress as well as other party officials and elected Democrats across the country, a majority of whom lined up behind Clinton's campaign months ago. Last spring and summer when many of these superdelegates announced that they were supporting Clinton, Sanders's campaign was thought of as a fun exercise to change the rhetoric in the campaign and move Clinton to the left — not a serious campaign that could make it all the way to the convention (which may still be a long shot, but certainly a possibility now) or even close.
Sanders supporters rushed to Moveon.org where they started a petition calling on superdelegates to "announce that in the event of a close race, you'll align yourself with regular voters - not party elites." The petition currently has 135,523 signatures.
This is understandable, but ridiculous.
These superdelegates have said that they support Clinton's campaign, not that they will vote to nominate her at a convention five months away in the face of hypothetically massive support for Sanders when all of the primaries and caucuses are over. These are mayors and senators and governors and party leaders, not morons. Voting to nominate Clinton if Sanders enters the convention with a big lead among regular delegates would handicap her as the party's nominee, as would the opposite. Democrats want voters to show up in the general election and vote for whomever they have nominated. Going over their heads to back a candidate who has lost the support of a majority of voters is not the way to do that.
Just over half of superdelegates want to vote for Clinton because they think there's a good chance that she'll be the nominee. But they haven't locked in their votes and they won't until they stand on the convention floor in July, when it is almost certain that the party's nominee — either Clinton or Sanders — will already be a foregone conclusion. Only two states have voted so far, but it's incredibly unlikely that Democrats will enter the convention without a clear winner. The party hasn't had a brokered convention, in which two candidates enter locked so closely in the delegate count that the nominee is uncertain, since 1952.
There are 4,753 delegates, including those of the "super" variety, up for grabs for Democrats in 2016. The winning candidate will need 2,382 of them to secure the nomination. Clinton's 354-superdelegate lead isn't nothing, but if things go Sanders's way over the next five months, that number is very much subject to change.