If you read the pundits, there are two prevailing arguments: 1) Bernie can win, and it’s a conspiracy of big media and the Democratic establishment to say Hillary is inevitable; or 2) Hillary has math on her side, and it’s hard to deny math.
So who is right, does Sanders have a chance? Rather than rely on abstract arguments, conspiracy theories or dueling pundits, let’s get into the numbers.
As of March 27, 2016 the official total is Clinton 1712 vs. Sanders 1004. That includes super delegates however – leading Democratic officials who have a voice at the convention – and those people could change their mind. So removing super delegates it’s 1243 – 975. Needed to get the nomination: 2383.
The super delegates currently pledged to Clinton are not going to be swayed easily – but the strongest argument for them to switch would be if Sanders would get the majority of pledged delegates going into the convention, meaning that the super delegates, if they choose Clinton, would be defying the voters. They would be loathe to do that.
Here are the up coming primaries/caucuses:
Tuesday April 5: Wisconsin, 96 delegates
Saturday April 9: Wyoming caucus, 18 delegates
Tuesday April 19: New York, 291 delegates
Tuesday April 26, Connecticut 70, Delaware 31, Maryland 118, Pennsylania 210, Rhode Island 33 delegates
Tuesday May 3, Indiana 32 delegates
Tuesday May 10, West Virginia 33 delegates
Tuesday May 17, Kentucky 61, Oregon 73 delegates
Saturday June 5 – Sunday June 5, Virgin Islands 12, Puerto Rico 67 delegates
Tuesday June 7: California 546, Montana 27, New Jersey 142, New Mexico 43, North Dakota caucus 23, South Dakota 25 delegates
Tuesday June 14: District of Columbia caucus 46 delegates
Next, turning to the polls, the only recent polls that show Clinton with a large advantage are ones a bit over a week old from Pennsylvania and New York. Those are delegate rich states, and Clinton has leads of nearly 30 points in each. In Arizona, a state Clinton won by 16 points, she had a 26 point lead in a poll near the election. So these polls have to be taken with a grain of salt – she also had a big lead in Michigan (27 and 17 points), a state she ended up losing!
Given that volatility, it seems obvious that Sanders still has a chance. I thought her sweep on March 15th was decisive, especially when she won Ohio, but Sanders has bounced back from those loses.
Still, Sanders’ strength has been in caucus states – and almost all the delegates to come are chosen in primaries. Right now the odds still favor Hillary, but it’s like a team sitting on a lead in the NCAA tournament – the longer you allow the other team to stay in the game, the greater the odds of an unexpected come back.
Sanders path to victory: Sanders has the Millennials, generating levels of support from young people that go beyond what Obama accomplished in 2008. He has to generate at least some of that enthusiasm from older voters and minorities, something he has yet to do with any consistency. Assuming Sanders can win the Wyoming caucuses, Wisconsin is fundamental. A Sanders victory in Wisconsin, especially a decisive one, will force the media and pundits to reassess their calculation that Clinton is all but inevitable.
If he wins in Wisconsin, he’ll have two weeks to campaign in New York state, riding 5 straight victories, 7 of the last 8. If he can make New York close, denying Clinton the decisive victory everyone expects, then the race will be razor thin. (If he wins New York, Clinton will suddenly look like Northern Iowa against Texas A&M).
If Clinton wins New York only narrowly, then we have another Super Tuesday on April 26th. Of the states up that night, Pennsylvania and Maryland – two states which should be favorable to Clinton — will be center stage. If Sanders wins CT, DL and RI, then he need only be close in those states. A victory in either would be huge.
If Sanders does that – wins most states and holds Clinton close in NY, Penn and Maryland – then May will not be decisive, they’ll likely trade victories and the big showdown will be in California on June 7th. If Sanders wins that – so late in the season – he’ll likely have the majority of delegates and the super delegates will be in exceedingly dangerous territory if they were to deny him the nomination. Shorter version: Sanders MUST win Wisconsin, and then fight close contests in states Clinton is expected to win. If Sanders wins either New York or Pennsylvania, he becomes the favorite. California may decide it.
Clinton’s path to victory: Winning Wisconsin would be huge for Hillary – it would deflate the Sanders campaign and make it easier for her going into her home state contest in New York. If she loses Wisconsin she has to win BIG in New York, and later Pennsylvania. If she does that, the math should be on her side going into May. Still, unless Sanders under performs the rest of the way it’s likely to be June before she would have the nomination in hand.
Bottom line: This election is much closer than most people think, and closer than I expected it to be just a couple weeks ago. The campaign matters and while Clinton remains the favorite, the fact she’s even in danger at this point underscores her problem. She’s hasn’t convinced or inspired most Democrats yet.