Congressman Rick Larsen typed out a “Happy Easter” message to constituents on his Facebook page Sunday, telling them he hoped they could spend time with their families or other loved ones.
But hundreds of Bernie Sanders supporters were not in a holiday spirit. They lashed the Everett Democrat – one of Washington’s 17 so-called “superdelegates” to the party’s national convention – demanding he drop his support of Hillary Clinton in light of Sanders’ landslide win in Saturday’s caucuses.
“Enjoy your last Easter in office. The people have spoken,” wrote a man from Bellingham in a reply to Larsen. “Wake up voters and vote this schmuck out of office,” raged another from Coupeville.
Larsen isn’t alone. In a barrage of social-media posts, emails and phone calls, Sanders backers have harangued Washington superdelegates, demanding they shift their allegiance to the Vermont senator.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Bellingham Herald
Superdelegates are Democratic Party leaders and elected officials who are automatic delegates to this summer’s Democratic National Convention, where the party will formally pick its nominee for president.
Unlike pledged delegates, who are allocated to candidates based on primary or caucus results, superdelegates are considered “unpledged” and are free to back the candidate of their choosing.
Most have picked Clinton, who also leads in the pledged delegate count. Nationally, 469 superdelegates have declared support for the former secretary of state, compared with 29 for Sanders, according to an Associated Press tally. In Washington, the trend has been similar, with every superdelegate who has declared a preference backing Clinton and none supporting Sanders.
I am supporting Secretary Clinton regardless of how people characterize it. She will be our best foot forward this fall and be the best President of all the candidates.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, in a Facebook response to a Bernie Sanders supporter.
In addition to Larsen, Washington’s 17 superdelegates include Gov. Jay Inslee, U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, and U.S. Reps. Jim McDermott, Denny Heck, Suzan DelBene, Derek Kilmer and Adam Smith.
Those elected officials have publicly backed Clinton and none show signs of changing their minds.
Larsen’s office did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday. But on Facebook, he defended his stance. “I am supporting Secretary Clinton regardless of how people characterize it. She will be our best foot forward this fall and be the best President of all the candidates,” he wrote in response to one Sanders supporter.
In a statement, Murray campaign spokesman Eli Zupnick said the senator respects Sanders, “but she has worked with Hillary for years and believes she will be an amazing voice for Washington state workers and families as she breaks this highest and hardest glass ceiling in our country.”
73 Percentage of Washington state voters who picked candidate Bernie Sanders in the March 26 Democratic caucuses.
5.8 Percentage of the state’s 4 million registered voters who participated in those same caucuses.
Spokespersons for Cantwell and McDermott did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
In Saturday’s caucuses, Sanders defeated Clinton in all 39 Washington counties, with 73 percent of the statewide vote, though only 5.8 percent of the state’s 4 million registered voters participated.
Sanders’ dominance means his supporters elected 73 percent of the 26,300 precinct-level delegates on Saturday. The final split of the state’s 101 pledged national delegates will be determined as precinct-level delegates advance to subsequent party meetings over the next two months, culminating in congressional-district caucuses in May and the state convention in June.
If superdelegates don’t fall in line behind the caucus vote soon, some local pro-Sanders activists say, they'll begin protests.
“We don’t want it to come to that. We would like to see our representatives reflect a democratic process, as opposed to us having to do something like take over space,” said Wesley Irwin, a former organizer for the Sanders campaign who remains a volunteer.
In a statement, Sanders’ spokesman Michael Briggs said the campaign is focused on “a grass-roots movement that is taking on the establishment,” predicting superdelegates eventually will support the candidate “who, in poll after poll, has the best chance to defeat Donald Trump or any of the other remaining Republican White House hopefuls.”
Irwin said Sanders supporters should field candidates against any superdelegates who fail to follow voter sentiment.
In Larsen’s case, some have used the congressman’s Facebook page to urge donations to his little-known Democratic primary challenger: Everett cafe owner Mike Lapointe, a pro-Sanders candidate whose campaign manager says they’ve received $5,000 in donations in the last couple of days.
“We have seen an insane influx of support,” said Jacob Gloss.
An online petition demanding Washington superdelegates follow the caucus results had garnered more than 28,000 signatures by Tuesday, though as with Larsen’s Facebook wall, that included many from out of state.
I keep chanting ‘this too, shall pass’ and hoping they simmer down.
State Democratic Party vice-chair Valerie Brady Rongey, an uncommitted superdelegate, on messages from Sanders supporters.
Jaxon Ravens, chair of the state Democratic Party, has called the superdelegate controversy overblown and predicts delegates will unite behind the party’s nominee. A superdelegate himself, Ravens caucused as “uncommitted” on Saturday – a stance taken by other party superdelegates, too.
In addition to Ravens and the elected officials, Washington’s superdelegates include Democratic Party vice-chair Valerie Brady Rongey and six members of the Democratic National Committee: David McDonald, Ed Cote, Sharon Mast, Lona Wilbur, Rion Ramirez and Juanita Luiz.
McDonald said he caucused as uncommitted on Saturday, even though his Seattle precinct wound up in a 31-31 tie vote and was decided by a “very dramatic” coin toss, which Sanders won, giving him three delegates to Clinton’s two in that precinct.
Cote said in an email he, too, remains uncommitted, adding that the superdelegates “have never made a difference in who is the nominee of our party and that will be the case again in 2016.”
Another uncommitted superdelegate, Rongey, said she “will vote for the Democratic nominee” at the national convention – but added she has not enjoyed the tone of the blitz by Sanders fans.
She’s been deluged with “bombardment, threats and attempts at shaming” since a pro-Sanders website shared her personal and business contact information.
“I keep chanting ‘this too, shall pass’ and hoping they simmer down,” Rongey said in an email. “Any logically presented, thoughtful requests that anyone may be sending are being completely lost among the cut-and-paste messages and yelling and all caps, and I am sorry for that.”