It seems “Beto 2.0” won’t only be a full reconfiguration of Beto O’Rourke’s primary operation, but also an effort to bypass the traditional method of earning delegates by courting the Democratic party’s superdelegates.
Dallas News reports that Beto O’Rourke has hired former president Barack Obama’s “delegate guru,” Jeff Berman, as part of his complete campaign overhaul, signaling that his plan may be less to win in key early primary states, and more to win by rubbing elbows with the Democrats’ top dignitaries and donors, securing support outside of the traditional primary system in an effort to surreptitiously secure the nomination.
“Berman,” Dallas News reports, “was the MVP (most valuable politico) in Obama’s 2008 campaign, helping the star candidate gobble up delegates and hold off Hillary Clinton, who didn’t grasp the math until it was too late.”
Hillary Clinton learned from that mistake, snapping up Berman early in her 2016 campaign so that she could secure the party’s superdelegates before ever hitting the primary trail in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, making it next to impossible for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to come close to the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination before the race even began.
It’s a smart move for Beto, whose campaign has been failing almost since the day after he announced his run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Although he picked up a base of support early, earning him enough in donations to push him onto the primary debate stage, since April, O’Rourke has tanked in polls, earning less than 3% support in any early state and hovering around 1% support nationally — some 40% behind the leader, former Vice President Joe Biden.
With more than 20 candidates now in the race and few opportunities to cull the herd before January of 2020, every candidate — even Biden and Sanders — will be making a play for every available delegate. That makes courting superdelegates, who are won on an individual basis and not awarded in any primary or caucus, a key part of securing the Democratic party’s nomination.
With no chance of picking up many delegates the traditional way, Beto is smart to take a more creative approach, but it’s very possible it’s just too little too late for the former Texas Senate candidate.
For starters, it didn’t take much for Berman to convince superdelegates to support either Obama against Clinton or Clinton over Bernie Sanders. The field, in both cases, was small, and both were standout candidates. In Clinton’s case, she was also viewed as the candidate “owed” the nomination, so superdelegates weren’t particularly hard to convince. In Obama’s case, the momentum was behind him, and while Berman was a key part of his operation, he wasn’t the only factor in earning Obama the nod.
The hill is less surmountable for O’Rourke. He’s coming from far behind and is no longer viewed as a particularly exciting or breakout candidate. That honor was stolen from him by South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is filling the “fourth place” slot O’Rourke hoped to occupy. Although Buttigieg is facing problems of his own — declining interest and a lack of platform — he’s still viewed favorably among media and Democratic standard bearers.
Beto also isn’t superdelegate material. After Bernie Sanders lost the 2016 nomination, progressives in the Democratic National Committee tried desperately to reduce the power of superdelegates, most of whom are more traditional, entrenched, “establishment” Democrats who lean more toward the center than the 2020 field. O’Rourke began his campaign as a self-described “moderate” but has moved further left as desperation has set in. The better choice for superdelegates is, easily, Joe Biden.