Can Clinton Clinch Nomination Without Superdelegates?

Can Clinton Clinch Nomination Without Superdelegates?
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Hillary Clinton has almost locked up the Democratic presidential nomination. She leads Bernie Sanders by around 3 million in the popular vote (maybe a bit less depending on how votes are counted in various states) and has a large lead in pledged delegates.

Even if she performs significantly below her current polling in the New Jersey, California and other primaries taking place on June 7, she’ll likely blow past the requisite 2,383-delegate mark -- allowing her to officially clinch the nomination.

But to some critics of the Democratic primary process, her win will be tainted. Clinton has the overwhelming support of superdelegates -- elected officials, members of the Democratic National Committee and other party elites who can vote for whomever they want to at the convention. These superdelegates have padded her lead and helped the front-runner maintain an aura of inevitability throughout the primary.

So it’s worth asking:  Could Clinton win without superdelegates? And if not, is her win still legitimate?

Clinton Probably Won’t Clinch Without Superdelegates

With superdelegates in her current total of 2,305, Clinton is less than 100 away from the 2,383 threshold, but take away the superdelegates and she is 615 short – which presents a bigger hurdle to climb.

The former secretary of state would need an enormous share of the almost 800 remaining pledged delegates to clinch the nomination without superdelegate support. Democrats allocate delegates proportionally, so she would need roughly three-quarters of the votes cast in the remaining contests.

Current polling in California and New Jersey suggests she won’t come close to that level. The RealClearPolitics average has Clinton up eight points in California and ahead by 17 points in New Jersey. If she won both states by those margins and somehow managed to sweep all of the delegates in the final contests (some of which favor Sanders demographically), she would still not have enough to cross the finish line without superdelegate support.

But Her Win Is Still Completely Legitimate

That being said, Clinton’s win would not be ill-gotten. She’s ahead in the popular vote by a wide margin and, apart from a brief period in February, Clinton has held a lead throughout the entire primary and will likely maintain it.

Moreover, any candidate would find it difficult to win a long, competitive primary without the support of superdelegates. These delegates make up about 15 percent of the total, so a candidate would need just under 60 percent of the pledged delegates to win the nomination outright.

That’s a high bar, which then-Sen. Barack Obama didn’t surmount in his 2008 primary fight with Clinton. And even if Sanders, who has 1,539 delegates (of which 42 are superdelegates), were to miraculously win every single pledged delegate in the final contests, he would still need superdelegate support to get to 2,383.

David Byler is an elections analyst for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at dbyler@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @davidbylerRCP.

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