Columnists Earl Ofari Hutchinson Opinion

THE HUTCHINSON REPORT: Sanders’ super delegate dilemma

There are 172 Democratic super delegates spread throughout Los Angeles County and statewide.

The top state super delegate is California Gov. Jerry Brown. The top congressional delegates are Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

Behind them are all the state’s representatives in Congress, Democratic party elders, a handful of big gun state Democratic officials and everybody in California who sits on the Democratic National Committee. They will be the target of the biggest and most aggressive and most intense lobbying campaign this side of the Rockies in the coming weeks. The reason is simple.

The super delegates make up a significant swatch of the delegates who will play a big role in deciding whether Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders nab the Democratic presidential nomination. That has made a lot of people in the Sanders camp furious.

They loudly complain that the nomination deck is stacked against Sanders and for Clinton; in that she by way of her long-standing, and deep party ties and influence seemingly has a virtual lock on the super delegates in California and elsewhere. The Sanders camp has not only screamed foul but scrambled hard to try and arm twist some of the super delegates to switch sides to Sanders.

In years past, this scramble and bitter fight for California’s super delegates didn’t mean much since California is one of the last states to hold its primary. By the time it rolls around most years, it’s just a mere formality since the Democratic presidential nomination is well locked up by then.

This year it’s different and not only is California in play for Sanders and Clinton, but seemingly so are at least some of the votes of the super delegates.

That is where things get dicey for Sanders. He has a good and bad case about the outsized role of super delegates. In 1982, Democratic Party officials cooked up the idea of having super delegates as a fail-safe firewall against the horror in their eyes of having what happened in 1972 happen again.

That was the year George McGovern got the party to hold lots more primaries, and then rode the crest of the anti-war, civil rights, student protest and populist wave to win them and bag the Democratic presidential nomination. McGovern was then thoroughly trounced by Richard Nixon in the general election.

Super delegates would be the guard at the hen house door to ensure that any future Democratic presidential candidate would have to be properly establishment, credible, presentable and electable in the general election. There would be no more wild man nominees.

That was a valid concern, and so it was not unreasonable for the party top cats to position themselves to have some way to ease out of the picture a potential nominee who might be hit with a scandal or unsightly controversy before the convention. Or, to make sure Republican dirty tricksters couldn’t rally conservative voters to stuff the ballot boxes in open primary states for the weakest of the weak — the most beatable — Democratic candidate.

The problem, though, is that while this all makes good political sense, there’s still the pesky point that super delegates, with few exceptions, can and do, ignore polls and primary wins, the popularity and appeal of a potential nominee, even the electability of one of their own.

The odd thing is that the GOP, which also has super delegates, though a lot less of them than the Democrats, according to GOP party rules must bow to the will of the voters in a state’s primary. That is, if a candidate wins the lion’s share of the votes in a district in the state the GOP super delegates must vote in accord with the majority.

That’s democracy with a little “d.” In this case anyway, the GOP is heads up over the Democrats in making sure that their super delegates can’t totally make up the rules of the game themselves.

In the end, Sanders (who himself qualifies as a super delegate by virtue of being a senator) knows and knew going in that these are the party rules, as terrible as they are if you’re on the losing end.

That’s because it could poison the party well to the point where legions feel that their guy, namely Sanders, was robbed by men and women who operate like the old party bosses who hand-picked the Democratic presidential nominee in the old smoke-filled back room.

That doesn’t change the fact that California could be the deal maker for Sanders, if, and this is a monster, if, he can cajole enough of L.A. County and the state’s super delegates to feel the Bern.

That’s Bernie’s California dilemma.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is “From Sanders to Trump: A Guide to the 2016 Presidential Primary Battles” (Amazon Kindle). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.