Democrats seek deal on insiders' role in picking nominee

CHICAGO (AP) — Democrats are on the cusp of overhauling how they pick a White House nominee, but not without one final public fight over whether to curtail the high-profile role played by party insiders, a major source of ill will in the 2016 race.

The decision expected later Saturday was seen as the latest test of party unity as Democrats try to close the internal divisions exposed by the battle between eventual nominee Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and turn their attention to the November elections, with control of Congress at stake, and the presidential contest in 2020, when President Donald Trump would be up for a second term.

Backers of the Vermont senator accused national party leaders of tipping the scales for Clinton in the last election.

At issue is the influence of superdelegates, the hundreds of Democratic National Committee members, elected officials and party elders.

The DNC chairman, Tom Perez, is pushing to strip these insiders of their presidential nominating votes at a contested convention in 2020. That would leave first ballot votes to a candidate's pledged delegates, as determined by the outcomes of state primaries and caucuses.

Under the proposal, superdelegates could vote on any subsequent ballots if it took multiple rounds to pick a nominee.

"I'm confident tomorrow that we are going to move forward united with a very clear message to voters: 'We're here to grow the party. We're here to earn your trust,'" Perez told activists Friday after DNC had spent hours in private debating the changes.

The plan, resulting from two years of negotiations, has pitted Perez against at least two previous party heads; Don Fowler, who led the DNC under President Bill Clinton, and Donna Brazile, who took the reins in the closing months of the 2016 election.

Fowler said he was trying to gather opposition votes as he aims to use procedural measures to delay a final vote until a future DNC meeting.

The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, also has expressed opposition.

In 2016, and for decades prior, superdelegates not pledged to a specific candidate were free to vote however they pleased at the convention. Two years ago, they represented up to 15 percent of all convention delegates, and they overwhelmingly favored Clinton.

She came into the convention with a clear lead in pledged delegates, having won almost 4 million more votes than Sanders in the preceding months. That means superdelegates did not upend the popular vote result. Still, critics of the superdelegate structure noted that several hundred among this group had announced their intentions long before the convention, giving Clinton an edge.

Christine Pelosi, a DNC member from California who backed Clinton but supports scrapping superdelegates, recalled media coverage of Sanders' big victory in the New Hampshire primary being colored by Clinton having unpledged delegate support in the state.

"Sanders went to bed ahead, and he woke up effectively tied" in the delegate count, Pelosi said. "That's not a 'perception.' That's a reality."

Other DNC members expressed resentment over being portrayed as party bosses dictating outcomes to voters.

"I ran for my position, it's not like I was anointed from on high," said Nikema Williams, vice chairwoman of the Georgia Democratic Party. While former presidents and members of Congress are superdelegates, Williams noted that most of the rest "are people who day in and day out work for the party without fanfare."

Perez, she argued, "is trying to correct a perception problem with a huge change that's not needed."

Some Democrats wonder whether this fight could be for naught. Dozens of potential candidates are considering the race in 2020, and it may not come down to a two-person contest. That could mean having three or more candidates splitting pledged delegates going to into a convention and requiring a second ballot.

"Yes, we could end up right back where we started" with superdelegates, said Washington state's chairwoman, Tina Podlodowski.

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