Hillary Clinton holds a substantial edge among a particular and little-noticed kind of delegate to the Democratic National Convention: Superdelegates.
On July 25, these superdelegates will cast votes at the Democratic National Convention for whomever they want, regardless of primary and caucus outcomes. Democrats like to describe superdelegates as mostly elected officials and prominent party members, including President Obama and former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
But this group, which consists of 21 governors, 40 senators and 193 representatives, only makes up about a third of the superdelegates. Many of the remaining 463 convention delegates are establishment insiders who get their status after years of donations and service to the party. Dozens of the 437 delegates in the DNC member category are registered federal and state lobbyists, according to an ABC News analysis.
In fact, when you remove elected officials from the superdelegate pool, at least one in seven of the rest are former or current lobbyists registered on the federal and state level, according to lobbying disclosure records.
That’s at least 67 lobbyists who will attend the convention as superdelegates. A majority of them have already committed to supporting Hillary Clinton for the nomination.
And 41 lobbyist superdelegates, almost six in 10 of all lobbyist superdelegates, have already committed to supporting Clinton. A third haven’t yet revealed a preference. Two have stated that they are supporting Bernie Sanders.
Superdelegates are unique to the Democratic nominating process. Of the 4,763 delegates who will attend the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, 717 will be superdelegates -- almost a third of the total required to win the nomination.
Of the 717 superdelegates, who are free to support whomever they like, Clinton has already won commitments from more than half of them. She has been endorsed by 450 superdelegates, to Sanders’ 19. The rest remain uncommitted.
Democrats are downplaying the potential influence of superdelegates, arguing that voters -- not party insiders -- will choose the nominee.
“Eighty-five percent of the delegates at the convention are Pledged, not ‘Super,’ so the primaries and caucuses are what determine the nominee. Superdelegates don’t have to vote until the convention and can change their minds at any time, so any count of superdelegates at this time is not an accurate reflection of the situation,” said Mark Paustenbach, national press secretary for the Democratic National Committee.
“The creation of superdelegates is not a new thing. They were created over thirty years ago. The superdelegates themselves are Democratic leaders like governors, members of Congress, and party officials," Paustenbach added. "We ensure these leaders have a voice in our convention outside of the primary and caucus process: Unpledged delegates mean interested voters don’t have to run against elected officials to attend the Democratic National Convention. As a result of this inclusive process, each state’s delegation is comprised of a diverse group of citizens."
But Republicans counter that the superdelegates rig the system to favor the insider candidate -- in this case, Clinton.
“The Democrat superdelegate system is a corrupt process designed to let insiders and lobbyists overturn the will of voters,” Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in a statement to ABC News.
“Should it come down to the superdelegates, the Democrats will be nominating a fellow insider under FBI investigation, and viewed so unfavorably that she couldn’t defeat a 74-year old self-avowed Socialist at the ballot box," Priebus added.
Brian Fallon, a Clinton campaign spokesman, disagreed with Priebus’ characterization.
"This race is going to be won in the states. Hillary Clinton is leading in pledged delegates based on her strong performances in the primaries and caucuses so far, and her plan is to keep building that lead en route to the nomination,” Fallon said.