In an Internet war of words over the weekend, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean defended his decision to vote for Hillary Clinton when he goes to the Democratic National Convention in July.

Dean, a superdelegate, aggressively pushed back against critics who said he should support Sen. Bernie Sanders after his landslide win in last week's Vermont primary.

Dean took heat for not representing the will of Vermont voters and being a "sellout" to the Democratic Party establishment. Critics said his decision to support Clinton in spite of the overwhelming Vermont vote was "arrogant" and "shameful."

Sanders won the Vermont primary over Clinton 86 to 14 percent. He won all 16 pledged delegates, but half of the 10 superdelegates said they're supporting Clinton. Superdelegates, party officials and members of Congress, can vote however they choose when they go to the convention.

One critic said: "You continue to bury what little reputation you had left with the Progressives."

Another said Dean "represented an elitist club whose days are numbered."

The back-and-forth on Twitter, a social media site, was triggered Saturday when Dean responded to a follower who said his decision to support Clinton did not "represent the people."

"Your SD vote goes 2 Hillary no matter what? Way to represent the people! @BernieSanders will make a great Prez in spite of u," one person Tweeted.


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"Super delegates don't 'represent people,'" Dean responded. "I'm not elected by anyone. I'll do what I think is right for the country."

Dean's answer set off a firestorm and was retweeted more than 550 times.

In later responses — the debate went well into Sunday, with some of Dean's tweets coming at 4 a.m. — Dean said he was supporting Clinton because she is "smart, fact-based, and can run the country well."

Dean dismissed arguments he should follow the Vermont vote, noting he was selected as a superdelegate because of his past role as chairman of the Democratic National Party, not because of an elected position he held in Vermont.

To win the Democratic Party nomination, a candidate must receive support from 2,383 delegates and superdelegates. So far, 19 states have voted, with Sanders winning eight. He has 477 pledged delegates to 672 for Clinton. However, Clinton has more than 400 superdelegates supporting her, while only 20 have signed on with Sanders.

The superdelegate totals puts Clinton ahead 1,130 to 499, but Sanders supporters and some media outlets say that creates a false sense of Clinton's inevitability, because superdelegates can change their minds.

In an interview Monday, Dean deemed the debate "fairly polite" but said it was ridiculous that people would think he would flip his vote because of a barrage of criticism on Twitter. He said he stopped responding when "it was not a serious dialogue anymore."

At one point, Dean dismissed as a lie allegations he clear cut land in Vermont, and he cautioned one follower to show more tolerance. A few were crude, which Dean didn't respond to, and at least two people said Dean subsequently blocked them from being able to comment on his posts.

State Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, took a shot at the former governor, who ran for president in 2004, noting he picked up support of only 54 percent in the Vermont Democratic Party primary, well behind Sanders' total.

Dean said he initially jumped into the discussion because he did not think critics understood the difference between the pledged delegates that candidates win in the primaries and the superdelegates, who are unpledged.

Dean also responded to claims that his stance was undemocratic. He noted Clinton has received 4.2 million votes to 2.6 million for Sanders in the 19 contests so far.

"Those arguments don't carry anybody. What they're mad about is they want as many delegates as they can for their guy, and I understand that, but that's not how I work, as you well know from my tenure as governor and lieutenant governor," Dean said in the interview.

In one post, Dean said he was "stubborn" and that it helped achieve health care expansion decades before the Affordable Care Act.

He warned that Sanders' supporters need to be careful not to ratchet up their criticism since they'll need Clinton supporters if Sanders pulls out the nomination. A number of Twitter commenters made the same response back to Dean about Clinton needing Sanders supporters, too.

Dean said he had a difficult time in 2004 persuading his supporters to back the Democratic Party nominee, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who lost to President George W. Bush.

Dean said he hadn't requested or wanted to be a superdelegate. He said President Barack Obama instigated the change to include former party chairs. Dean said he served as a superdelegate in 2012 and voted for Obama.

He also had some praise for Sanders. In one tweet, he said: "I like Bernie and think he's saying what needs to be said." He also praised Sanders for running as a Democrat and not an independent, which Dean said would have split the vote and guaranteed a Republican win.