PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Rhode Islanders won't cast votes in the state's presidential primary for another two months, but Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton has already managed to lock up nearly one-third of the state's delegates.
As of Thursday, all nine of Rhode Island's so-called Democratic "superdelegates" are on the record as backing Clinton. Superdelegates are top party leaders who can back the candidate of their choice regardless of how their states vote, and nationwide they are breaking heavily for Clinton against her rival Bernie Sanders.
Five of Rhode Island's superdelegates are top elected officials who backed Clinton long ago: Gov. Gina Raimondo, U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, and Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline. A sixth superdelegate, R.I. Democratic Party Chair Joseph McNamara, endorsed Clinton last fall.
Rhode Island's other three superdelegates - Democratic Party Vice-Chair Grace Diaz, National Committeeman Frank Montanaro and National Committeewoman Edna O'Neill Mattson - told WPRI.com on Thursday that they are supporting Clinton, as well, making it a clean sweep in the Ocean State for the former first lady.
"But I like Sanders, too," Mattson said in a phone interview. "I think he's a terrific candidate. We're much luckier than the Republicans."
The local superdelegate news comes as Democrats and Republicans in Rhode Island kick off the two-day filing period to run in the state's April 26 presidential primary to be delegates for their favored candidates. Nomination papers must be returned with signatures by March 1 for them to appear on the ballot.
No public polling has been conducted in Rhode Island to test voters' preferences two months out from the presidential primary. While Clinton won Rhode Island easily in 2008, surveys have shown her trailing Sanders in neighboring Massachusetts, which votes next Tuesday. That has helped spur speculation the Vermont senator could show strength in the Ocean State, as well.
Rhode Island has been allotted 33 delegates to the Democratic National Convention and 19 delegates to the Republican National Convention, and despite the state's small size, they could make a difference if the races stay competitive.
But the process for allocating them is quite different between the two parties.
Less than half of the 33 Democratic delegates - a total of 15 - will be directly elected in the April 26 primary, according to the state party. Eight will come from the 1st Congressional District and seven from the 2nd District. The elected delegates will be distributed between Clinton and Sanders proportionally as long as they each secure at least 15% of the vote, switching off between the male and female delegate candidates who earn the most votes.
Then, along with the nine superdelegates, an additional nine more Democratic delegates will be selected later in the spring by members of the R.I. Democratic State Committee, also based on the primary results: three so-called "PLEOs" (short for Public Leaders and Elected Officials) on May 25 and six at-large delegates on June 13, party spokesman Ann Gooding said.
The choice of PLEOs will be prioritized in this order, Gooding said: big-city mayors, statewide elected officials and state legislative leaders; state legislators; state and local elected officials; and party leaders. For the at-large delegates, the goal "is to get as much diversity as possible and reflect otherwise 'under-represented' demographics: youth, women, minority, Hispanic, people with disabilities," she said.
Gooding added that the nine superdelegates "have until the actual convention to make it official - and they typically go with the will of the voters."
The Rhode Island Republican Party's rules for allocating its 19 delegates are far simpler. Almost all of them - 16 - will be directly elected in the state's April 26 primary. The other three delegates - Party Chairman Brandon Bell, National Committeeman Steve Frias and National Committeewoman Lee Ann Sennick - are all officially neutral in the race and are expected to vote in line with the state's primary results.
"We're much more democratic than the Democratic Party," Bell quipped.
As with the Democrats, Rhode Island's Republican delegates will be divided proportionally based on the primary results, with three chosen from each congressional district and 10 chosen at-large based on the statewide vote. A GOP candidate must receive at least 10% of the vote to earn a delegate.Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesiThis story has been revised to clarify that while the nine Democratic at-large and PLEO delegates will be chosen by the state party committee, they will be pledged to candidates based on the outcome of the April 26 primary results.