MONTPELIER >> Bernie Sanders supporters in Vermont are threatening to challenge the idea that some of the state's delegates to the Democratic National Convention might support Hillary Clinton, given her poor performance in Tuesday's Vermont primary.
Ken Dean, a longtime Democratic activist who has been a delegate to several national conventions, said most delegates have to live by a rule that if their favored candidate fails to get 15 percent in a state's primary, the candidate is excluded from having convention delegates from that state.
Other party officials say the 15 percent rule doesn't apply to superdelegates, which can choose whom to support regardless of what a state's voters did.
To Dean, that smacks of hypocrisy. "Will they apply the same rule to themselves?" Dean asked of Vermont's superdelegates. Or will they say "the regulations are good enough for us rank and file but they're not good enough for them?"
Dean said he and other Sanders supporters are likely to launch a formal challenge within the party organization, demanding that the whole Vermont delegation adhere to the 15 percent rule and back Sanders at the convention.
Vermont will send 26 delegates, plus two alternates, to the convention in Philadelphia in July. Conor Casey, the state party's executive director, said 16 of those delegates will be "pledged," meaning they have agreed to support the winner of Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary, with Sanders won with more than 86 percent of the vote.
The other 10 will go to "unpledged," or "superdelegates," elected and senior party officials who are not bound to support the primary winner. Four of them — Sen. Patrick Leahy, former Gov. Howard Dean, Gov. Peter Shumlin and Democratic National Committee member Billi Gosh — have previously declared their support for Clinton, and would have to switch for Vermont's delegation to be unanimous.
Two of them — Howard Dean (no relation to Ken Dean), and a spokesman for Shumlin — did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Carolyn Dwyer, a top political aide to Leahy, said the senator had "given his personal support to Senator Clinton. His delegate vote will go to the candidate with the most pledged delegates at Convention."
Asked whether that meant the candidate with the most Vermont pledged delegates or the one with the most at the convention as a whole, she replied, "Most pledged delegates at the national convention."
Gosh said in an email, "Last summer I gave my word to Hillary that I would support her and I will not go back on my word. I am sticking with Hillary, and I am convinced that she will be our nominee." Gosh also said superdelegates had been part of the party's nominating system since 1984, and had never produced a nominee different from the one selected by the most primary and caucus voters.
Three Vermont superdelegates — Sanders, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and Richard Cassidy — have previously stated their support for Sanders, while three remained uncommitted.
One of those three, Secretary of State Jim Condos, said he expected to announce his endorsement next week. Condos said he would like to see Vermont's delegates distributed proportionally in accordance with the primary vote.
If four remain committed to Clinton and the other 22 go to Sanders, it would work out close the proportionality Condos pointed to. Clinton got 13.56 percent of the vote, which would give her four out of 26 delegates.