Aspen superdelegate holds firm on Clinton support
March 22, 2016
It was back in August when Pitkin County's sole superdelegate, Blanca O'Leary, committed her support to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
O'Leary hasn't wavered on her pledge despite the former secretary of state collecting 349 votes in the preference poll held at the county caucus on Super Tuesday, March 1. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders reeled in 421 votes, or 54.7 percent of the tally.
As a superdelegate, however, O'Leary's nominating vote doesn't have to reflect the outcome of the popular vote.
"The reason that I chose Hillary Clinton in August is I've looked at her work, I've known her since 1992, and she's the most qualified person to run the country," O'Leary said in an interview earlier this month. "Nothing has happened that will change my mind."
“The reason that I chose Hillary Clinton in August is I’ve looked at her work, I’ve known her since 1992, and she’s the most qualified person to run the country,” Superdelegate Blanca O’Leary. “Nothing has happened that will change my mind.”
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O'Leary's lofty delegate status awards her that ability. And in this year's presidential contest, the power wielded by superdelegates has drawn more scrutiny and criticism than usual. The 2008 primaries and caucuses pitting Clinton against Barack Obama also cast the spotlight on the superdelegates' clout.
O'Leary added that because Colorado, like many states, is not a winner-take-all state for Democrat candidates — delegates are awarded on a proportional basis — she is siding with the 49,314 Colorado voters, or 40.3 percent, who caucused for Clinton. That was good enough for 28 delegates in Colorado, including O'Leary.
"I represent them," she said.
Sanders, meanwhile, earned 38 state delegates, thanks to the 72,115 voters, or 59 percent, who caucused for him.
It will take 2,383 delegates to snag the Democratic nomination for president. As of Friday, Clinton had 1,614, including 467 superdelegates, according to The Associated Press. Sanders had 856, including 26 superdelegates. All told, the Dems have 712 superdelegates this election cycle, all of whom are empowered to change their commitment at any time, and they don't have to be bound to a candidate at their summer convention.
Of Colorado's 12 superdelegates, four aren't committed, while the remaining eight are backing Clinton. That includes O'Leary; Gov. John Hickenlooper; Reps. Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis; Sen. Michael Bennet; Democratic National Committee member Mannie Rodriquez; and former Gov. Roy Romer, who also once chaired the committee.
The uncommitted superdelegates are Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio and Democratic National Committee members Anthony Graves, Lisa Padilla and Beverly Ryken. A phone message left with the Colorado Democratic Party wasn't returned.
The petition website Change.org recently took aim at Colorado's superdelegates and their majority support behind Clinton.
"The whole idea of superdelegates is not fair and it is corrupt," reads a letter written by Greeley resident Michael Lengel. "Superdelegates, if we accept them as part of the process as we have been forced to do, should speak for the people in the state they reside in. Superdelegates discourage voting by making citizens feel like their vote matters far less than it does and should. It also puts more power in the hands of the people who need less."
After stinging losses in the presidential races of 1972 (George McGovern was the Democratic nominee) and 1980 (incumbent President Jimmy Carter), the Democratic National Committee implemented superdelegates in 1984, explained Howard Wallach, chairman of the Pitkin County Democrats.
Qualifications to become one have changed over the years. Today, superdelegates are sitting Democratic governors, those who hold federal offices and party insiders. O'Leary, former chairwoman of the Pitkin County Democrats and a member of the DNC, falls under the latter. President Obama appointed her in 2009.
O'Leary, who has donated thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates and campaigns over the years as well as having hosted numerous fundraisers along with the less glamorous chores of knocking on doors, among other shoe-gum work — "I'm working every day of the year, not every four years," she said — said she appreciates the campaign Sanders has run. But Democratic candidates are well aware of the role of the superdelegates and the power they have, she said. She also said the media hype that superdelegates could control the outcome of the Democrats' nominating process is off-base.
"Superdelegates aren't going to win or lose this race," she said.
On Saturday, 14 Colorado counties, including Pitkin, held their Democratic assemblies to pick delegates for the upcoming congressional district conventions.
The delegates picked in Pitkin County will advance to the April 15 convention in Loveland for Congressional District 3, which includes Aspen. At that gathering, the number of delegates will be whittled down for the state convention April 16 in Loveland.
District 3 will have six of the state's 78 delegates and six alternates who will attend the Democratic National Convention, which is set for the week of July 25 in Philadelphia.
The Republican Party, which didn't take preference polls in its Colorado caucuses, will require 1,237 delegates to get the nomination. Donald Trump was leading as of Friday with 678, Sen. Ted Cruz had 414, and Gov. John Kasich had 143.
Trump's polarizing campaign has some pundits wondering if there will be a coup at the Republican convention in Cleveland or even a party implosion.
"They're probably sorry they don't have something like superdelegates," Wallach said.